THE EUREKA Thursday, August 13, 1896


The Loss Probably Will Not be Far from $12,000

Last Tuesday night about 8 o'clock a fire broke out in the basement of the prison chapel and dining-room building, a stone structure about 130 by 50 feet. with an ell. The patrol who always makes regular rounds in the yard was the first to discover smoke issuing through a basement window and at once gave the alarm. Assistant Deputy Warden Charley Madden immediately located the fire next to the bake oven on the north side of the basement cellar, about midway of the building. The prison hose was instantly attached to the water works hydrant in the court between this building and the main cell building, and the water was let on. The Anamosa fire department also responded in force in a few minutes and soon six or eight streams were being poured into the basement. But the dense smoke made it impossible for any one to handle the hose so as to direct a stream upward against the floor as could have been done if the fire had been on any of the floors above, and so the flames crept with great rapidity along the flooring and joists, communicating with various inflammable materials, and consuming sixty barrels of mess pork, forty barrels of molasses, a quantity of flour, lard, etc. A tank containing about ninety gallons of coal oil was also located in the basement, and this fact, as the fire spread, made it hazardous for any one to attempt to save the property above, though a considerable quantity of groceries was carried from the store room on the third floor before the smoke made further work impossible. The equipment in the tailor and shoe shops, with cloth and other material on hand, the valuable library of some 3,000 volumes, chapel organ and seats are a total loss. Much could have been saved if it had not been supposed that the fire would be brought under control, but when in became evident that the structure was doomed it was too late.

The ell extending north from the east end of the building is only one story and contained three large steam boilers, the electric light plant with engine and two dynamos and the heating and ventilating engine. A hard fight by the fire department finally save this building and its valuable contents, though the roof was partially destroyed. A heavy fire-proof wall extending to the roof was a material factor in hindering the progress of the flames and shutting off the heat from the main building. It was exceedingly fortunate that what wind there was came from the north, carrying the smoke and heat south. This fact enabled the firemen to work in the yard the most of the time without special discomfort, and what was also of still greater importance, the cell house, containg about 450 convicts, was not sufficiently heated even to crack a window pane, though some of the inmates naturally enough were alarmed. If a strong wind from the southwest had prevailed, the windows of the cell house would have been broken and the heat and smoke in all probability would have made a removal of the convicts to the court yard and building for the insane criminals a necessity.

The blacksmith shop adjoining the chapel building on the west was more or less riddled, but the contents, together with the engine, boilers, etc., in the machine shop were not seriously damaged, and the carpenter shop was not harmed at all.

The chapel building contained the first stone cells constructed here -- temporary plank cells having first been built and occupied in what is now the boiler house -- and it was used for that purpose until the cell building proper was made for occupancy. Then the cells were taken out and the structure fitted up for the uses to which it has since been devoted. This is the only stone building on the grounds that had wooden floors and joists, the woman's building, the main cell building and that for the criminal insane, as well as the cross section of the main building and the north wing, have been or will be furnished with heavy iron girders for joists, concrete for filling and stone for floors, with slate roofs over all, and are or will be completely fireproof.

The walls of the chapel building are standing, but the great heat to which they were subjected cracked and scaled them to such an extent that it is likely they must be taken down when it comes to rebuilding. If that shall be determined upon, as it probably will be after inspection by the Governor or executive council, the new structure will be fire-proof throughout and, while the loss to the State is a course of deep regret to the prison officials and the people, it may be that the removal of this fire-trap from the midst of the far more costly buildings already completed and now in process of construction is, after all, not as serious a loss, especially as it would never have ceased to be source of danger to the occupants of the main cell-house, and possibly of trouble in case of their hasty removal under stress of great excitement.

The question of providing the convicts with breakfast was somewhat of a problem in view of the loss of all cooking and table utensils. Clerk T. E. Patterson, however, got Robert Giltrap and his helpers at work a midnight and five hundred loaves of bread, with all necessary table fixtures from Heitchen's and Scott Bros.' hardware and tinware stores were on the ground for breakfast at the regular hour - 6 o'clock. Bread, cheese, bologna and coffee were provided for the men and they took the change in their bill of fare with the best good nature.

A temporary kitchen is being fitted up adjoining the boiler and laundry room and the convicts will be fed in the cell room. Supplies of cloth, sewing machines, provisions and other necessaries have been ordered and the inmates in the shops will soon be at work as usual, the stone workers resuming their regular occupations this morning.

About 900 sacks of flour and a quantity of meat were stored in the building occupied by the offices of the Warden and Clerk and will keep the wolf from the door for awhile.

It is fortunate, in view of these unlooked-for expenditures, that Warden Madden has over $10,000 saved up from the support fund, and this, we presume, will be available in the present emergency.

John Griffith, at the waterworks engine-house, gave the firemen 140 pounds direct pressure at his end of the line. Without this it is certain that the boiler and electric light plant would have been lost. A telegram was sent to Cedar Rapids for a steamer by someone at the prison but word was returned that it could not be furnished. It was not necessary, however, as the fire was finally brought under control.

Ed. Sawdey, a guard and fireman, sprained his ankle and had one bone broken during the first rush. Fred. Curry, another fireman, lost a pocket account book with many business entries of value to him, besides a one-dollar bill, but what became of it he has not yet discovered, but says he will give the finder the bill for the return of the book.

T. E. Walters, chief engineer, had everything in good shape and the large additions of new hose served an exceedingly useful purpose during the three hours the boys were at work. Mr Madden, we may add, speaks in the most satisfactory terms of their services and that rendered by the waterworks company.