Marshfield, February 1907: Devastating fire clouds the future of the Roddis Lumber & Veneer Company
By Kris Leonhardt
On the morning of Monday, Feb. 18, 1907, the employees of the Roddis Lumber & Veneer Company remained in their homes. What should have been a normal workday for the plant and its staff, consisting mostly of German immigrants, was anything but.
As the previous evening’s events unfolded, plans had been set into motion that would place a sense of uncertainty and fear in the Marshfield air.
Shortly before midnight watchmen at the Roddis plant were startled by the sight of flames bursting through the main building roof. A fire that had started in the dry room on the third floor had gone unnoticed and now threatened to claim the entire building.
As flames lit up the city sky, the fire department raced to the scene to try to save the building that provided work to so many residents. However, within a half hour, the main building was completely engulfed and past the point of rescue.
Hundreds arrived to the scene to aid and watch as firefighters worked to save the office, building, lumber inventory, and warehouse.
By the early morning hours of Monday, it was clear that the plant would be shut down. With the building insured at $43,000 and the loss estimated at $60,000, it was unclear whether the closing would be temporary or if the factory would close for good.
This was not the first time fire claimed the prosperous business, which was at one time the largest employer in the city. In 1897 W.H. Roddis bought out his partner following a fire that consumed the entire factory of the Hatteberg Veneer Company.
The factory made panels for desks, pianos, beds, organs, and cheese boxes, working in conjunction with the Roddis main plant and mill in Park Falls.
February of 1907 hit Roddis particularly hard. Not only did the Marshfield factory succumb to fire, but his main plant in Park Falls did as well.
Roddis’ predicament left him uncertain on the next move he would make. While he discussed the situation with his fellow controllers, it looked more and more like the company would move its entire operations to Park Falls, where a great deal of his lumber supply was held.
After much debate, it was decided that the company would rebuild at both locations. Years later, when asked why the company remained in Marshfield, W.H.’s son was quoted crediting the excellent workforce within the Marshfield community.
Kris Leonhardt may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.