The Great Marshfield Fire: Where there is a spark, there is a flame
By Kris Leonhardt
Marshfield was hit by multiple small fires in the early 1880s. With so many mills, lumber yards, and other wooden structures standing in close proximity of each other, Marshfield was a prime target for fires.
As of the morning of June 27, 1887, Marshfield had not seen rain in three weeks. The air was dry, and the wind was heavy as the Upham lumber yard bustled with the energy that a Monday morning during the height of mill season brings.
Wood and sawdust filled the yard as 17 million feet of lumber lay awaiting its destination.
When the 11:45 a.m. whistle blew to signal mid-day, hungry workers scattered to their homes and break areas for a rest. As the workers enjoyed their temporary respite, a Wisconsin Central train entered the city, stopping on a spur near the mill to empty its fire box.
The wind and nearby sawdust provided all that was needed for a spark to trail from the fire box into the awaiting propellant. Soon, there was a flame.
Everett A. Upham, the mill’s chief engineer, was the first to sound the alarm, and the volunteer fire department began preparing its hose cart stored on the corner of West Third Street and Chestnut Avenue.
Firemen connected the two available water lines and moved the rail cars, and the fire grew more intense as it bounced around the waiting wood and sawdust. The fire grew so hot that the firemen ran, leaving their hoses to burn in the growing blaze. As water spilled onto the ground, Upham cut the line from the pump to the hydrants and tried to protect the mill’s power house.
Once the fire reached the mill pond, which was then located within the confines of West Second Street, Oak Avenue, West First Street, and Spruce Street, the log-covered pond was set ablaze. The sky turned black with smoke as the fire then made its way through the mill and into the business district.
Upham tried in vain to salvage any portion of the mill possible but eventually retreated from the cause as people lined up on Central Avenue to rescue whatever possible from the impeding flames.
With the fire out of control, the assistant depot agent ran to the telegraph and desperately tried to reach neighboring communities. Stevens Point sent a pumper by train, but with the hoses too short to reach a water source, the aid was useless.
In a final attempt to stop the blaze, Major William Upham gave the command to use dynamite to create a fire break. At a hotel on the corner of West Second Street and Central Avenue, a 10-pound dynamite charge was placed on the pool table and ignited.
The explosion blew a portion of the building away but did little to stop the immense fire.
Next week: A sign of rebirth