Scioto County Infirmary

Furious Flames Destroy Main Building of County Infirmary

“Prompt Action Saves Most of the Furniture, Supplies, Etc.”1

“Loss about $5,000, which is Sorry News for the Tax-Ridden People of Scioto County.”

“Last Thursday afternoon, the main building of the Scioto County Infirmary, situated about two miles west of the city, took fire, and was totally destroyed, and blackened and cracked stone walls are all that remain, the inside being completely burned out. The fire broke out about 2 o’clock in the roof, on the north-east corner of the building, and in the absence of any able-bodied help, was soon beyond control. In this case, as in many others, in similar institutions, the trouble was caused by one of the inmates, a deaf and dumb and half-witted created names Rachel Schlack, who was employed in the kitchen, and after dinner on Thursday, had filled the outside flue with a lot of straw in the hope of burning out the soot. The draft was strong, and the mass of burning straw was drawn out upon the dry shingle roof, setting it on fire in several places. The flames were soon discovered, and the bell at the Infirmary was rung to give the alarm to the men who were at work in a field across the pike, threshing wheat. They came in all haste, but by the time they reached the house, the whole roof was wrapped in flames, and they busied themselves in getting out the inmates, furniture, etc., from the doomed building. The house being of stone, and the wind prevailing toward the southwest, the fire was kept confined within its walls and not allowed to spread to the adjoining buildings. The alarms was sent to the city, and the help of the Fire Department asked, but for some reason there was no response, and the flames were fought with meager appliance at hand. A large crowd from this city, and the vicinity of the conflagration were soon at the scene, and yeoman service was performed in saving the movable articles contained in the main building.”

“Several of the inmates who were partially or totally insane, were completely crazed by the excitement of the hour and one of them, Amanda Bishop, tried to throw herself into the flames several times. Other, more calm, stood in the yards and bewailed the loss of their home and several started towards the city, trudging the whole distance with their earthly possessions in their arms or upon their backs, in search of other quarters. The heat from the flames was intense, and several of the corners cracked from the top to the bottom on account of it, rendering them unfit to be used for rebuilding. All of the furniture, supplies, etc., were saved as also about one hundred and fifty bushels of new what that had been threshed few days before and stored in the basement to dry. The cooking utensils in the kitchen were destroyed., but the Directors, immediately after the fire had them replaced with new ones.”

“All of the inmates were safely removed without accident, but in the excitement Joseph Dement, one of the most untiring workers, had three ribs in his right side mashed in by a piece of plastering striking him on the head and knocking him down the stairs to the second floor and Boss Foster, who labored faithfully, was also struck by falling plastering and disabled for some time.”

“The inmates are being accommodated in the adjacent building, and arrangements are temporarily made for their comfort. The loss is variously estimated at from $5,000 to $7,000 with no insurance. What the Commissioners will do in the way of arranging for a new building is yet unknown.”

Brands from the Burning

Will a new building grace the farm?

This shop is to be used for a storeroom.

No blame should be attached to the Superintendent, Mr. Cole.

Wheat threshing was resumed the following morning.

Mr. Cole’s children’s clothes were mostly consumed.

The large cooking range was not injured to a great extent.

Jake Bauer, Infirmary Director, suffered a sprained ankle.

There were 52 inmates in the building: 30 male and 22 female.

150 bushels of wheat were taken from the building while it was in flames.

Director Bauer places the county’s loss at $7,000 or $8,000; no insurance.

Miss Emma, daughter of Superintendent Cole, suffered the loss of most of her clothing.

All of the county’s provisions and storage, excepting a few minor articles were saved.

One old lady inmate was seen walking to town after the building was wrapped in flames.

Barrels of molasses, lard and vinegar were rolled from the basement as though it was a warehouse.

Superintendent Cole and family have taken up their abode in a portion of the Corydon Pyles residence nearby.

The familiar stone pillars that adorned the frontage of the county hotel is a pitiable spectacle to behold.

Would-be Infirmary Director Fred Brodbeck was a busy man at the burning. He was grinding an ax.

“Dummy” is the same female individual who attempted to poison Blind Lizzie, under Superintendent Gibson’s reign.

The two large heating furnaces in the basement will be saved. The sheet-iron casing encircling them being destroyed.

“Dummy” who fired the Infirmary was locked up in a cell. It is located in the east brick building with the insane.

The flue where the fire occurred was from the basement range. It was sheet iron and located upon the outer rear wall.

It was the expression of all present that Director Bauer did a great amount of wind-work than actual labor.

All the men folks were at work in the field near the river threshing. The alarm was sounded by the large dinner bell.

The old bugs that have inhabited the crevices of the building for years past have undoubtedly severed their connection.

Matches were taken from “Dummy” the same evening she fired the building. She threatened destruction of what remained.

The loss of Mack Cole’s gold watch created great commotion. It was recovered from one of the inmates late in the afternoon.

Upon more than one occasion has this wicked “Dummy” threatened to poison or roast all the inmates. She should be taken in tow.

“The coal house has been converted into a dining hall; the wash-house is to be used for a kitchen, and the inmates will be properly cared for.”

“All the Superintendent’s furniture on the second floor excepting the kitchen furniture was saved. On the third floor he lost his bed room furniture.”

“Joseph Dement received his injuries – of three broken ribs – on the rear second floor, while retracing his steps from carrying water. Plastering falling upon his head threw him down the stairway.”

“Dummy” fired the flue to burn it out. She didn’t succeed. Coal oil was placed therein for a finishing touch. The straw sparks were thrown from the stack to the dry roof by the current wind that pressed down the run.”

“Some of the original window glass that Captain Cleveland received from London, when he erected the building in 1838-39 still remained when it burnt. The size could not be procured here, and were delivered at $1 per pane.”

“Nat Smith visited the scene of disaster the evening it occurred. Nat resembled Rip Van W., but his gun, oh! where was it? It perished in the flames. The loads it contained were discharged by the heat during the burning of the structure. His shot pouch was saved and will be preserved as a relic.”

“John M. Lenhart, the tinner, was among the first to arrive at the scene from the city, and helped remove a greater part of the storage & c. from the building. He furnished a new stove, the cooking utensils, tin plates, forks and knives the same evening and placed them in position to feed the suffering inmates.”

  1. Furious Flames. (1882, July 22). Portsmouth Times, p. 3.
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