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Mason County Memories

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Manistee part 2 History column Dave Petersen Last week we began our series on early Manistee history as told by General Byron M. Cutcheon during the 1776 July fourth celebration. We ended with the beginning of the big fire of 1871 which devastated Manistee and pick up with what was referred to as "Pandemonium on Earth. As you are reading through the accounts of that day and the extent of the fire's destruction you might consider how lucky we are to live in the times that we do and our good fortune in the quality of the volunteer fire departments we have in Mason County. That being said I'd like to find some vintage fire department photos from the area and departmental histories for a future column. " A bright light came up out of the south, directly in the rear of the town and the fierce gale bearing it on directly toward the doomed city. The fire had originated two miles south of the city on the lakeshore. It first came on the farm of L.G. Smith esq. Which it devoured. Eighty rods north the extensive farm and dairy of E. W. Secor shared the same fate, with all his barns and forage. Another quarter of mile and the large farm buildings of Mayor R. G. Peters were quickly annihilated. "Here the column of fire divided, the left hand branch keeping to the keeping to the lakeshore hills and coming in at the mouth; the other taking a northeasterly course and coming in directly south of the town. Here a small band of determined men fighting with the energy of despair to protect their homes kept it at bay till past midnight. But all was in vain - at 12:30 oclock the gale became a tornado hurling great clouds of sparks cinders, burning bark and rotten wood through the air in a terrific fiery storm. " Every man now fled to his own house. The fire now came roaring on through the dead hemlocks south of the blocks included between Maple and Oak streets in the Second Ward. The flames leaped to the summits of the great hemlocks seventy, eighty, or ninety feet high, and threw out great flags of fire against the lurid heavens. The scene was grand and terrible beyond description. To us, whose homes and dear ones and all were in the track of the fire it was heart rending. Then came a deluge of fire like that rained on the cities of the plains. " The wooden town, sawdust streets, the stumpy vacant lots, the pine clad hills north of the river all burst into a sea of flame made furious by the most fearful gale of wind that I have ever experienced. On toward the river and the Manistee lake spread the tempest of fire. Men, women, and children in night clothes, half clothed, or fully clothed - some barefoot, on foot, in wagons, on horseback fled for their lives. It was Pandemonium on Earth. Families were separated- husbands, wives, parents and children. "Everything went down before the storm- dwellings with their home treasures, mills with their machinery, stores and their stocks, warehouses and their contents, the fine swing bridge at the foot of Maple Streets, vessels and their cargos, all mingled in common ruin. The steam fire engine burned in the streets where it stood, the men and horses barely escaping with their lives. When Monday mornings sun glared red and lurid through the heavy masses of smoke, where had stood Manistee, it beheld a scene of desolation scarcely to be described." The fire of October 8th 1871 burned over half of the city of Manistee without loss of any life which in itself was a miracle when considering the speed that the firestorm swept through the town. Pioneers are a hardy folk and once the shock of the fire had worn off they began quickly to go about the business of rebuilding their town, brick buildings to replace the wooden structures, an iron bridge to replace the one that burned. It was a storm that was not limited to Manistee as Chicago burned on October 9th 1871 with the loss of 300 lives, and much of the city. Peshtigo Wisconsin burned along with 400 square miles of forest, Holland Michigan and Port Huron also burned, the total loss of life was in excess of 1200 people with half being from Peshtigo. If you have any photographs or stories you would like to share with our readers please feel to contact me at 757-3240 email at davep@blackcreekpress.com or mail in care of Ludington Daily News.

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