SUBMITTED BY BOB MORGRIDGE
It was just past 9 p.m. on a Friday June 28, 1918, when the whistles at mill No. 1, located about where the marina is today, began pushing fierce vibrating sounds through the evening air, signaling a call to arms.
It was a pleading for a crack fire department to combat a fire that was about to hungrily consume the wood of a Boyne City structure.
The newly acquired 1917 LaFrance fire truck raced to the scene and did its best, but it was to no avail.
White’s Mill No. 1 succumbed to the dictates of insatiable flames and was eventually reduced to a heap of scorched bricks and twisted steel and ashes.
The burning of the mill signaled for Boyne the beginning of the end of its greatest period—the lumbering era.
By 1923, most of the trees were gone.
However, one artifact remains from those by-gone-days.
It is the old fire truck that still serves as a reminder of the past and is the centerpiece in the new Boyne City Museum.
The following article about the fire was first reported in the Boyne Citizen on July 1, 1918, and republished in the July 2, 2008 edition of The Citizen-Journal:
One of the City’s Most Disastrous
Fires Occurred Friday Night
The Large Mill of W.H. White
Company Totally Destroyed
Other Buildings Damaged,
Loss estimated at $200,000
Fire of unknown origin was discovered about nine fifteen, Friday night, in the south-west end of Mill No. 1, better known as the W. H. White Company’s “Big Mill.”
In a very few minutes the large building was a mass of flames against which the city firefighters could make but little headway, although they had eight lines of hose laid.
The estimated loss is between $150,000 and $200,000. It is only partially covered by insurance.
Not only was the mill proper totally destroyed, but the planning-mill annex also burned.
The destruction of these buildings, at least temporarily, throws over one hundred men out of work, and unless arrangements can be made at once for carrying on operations at Mill 3, which has been unused for several years, the labor depression will spread to the employees of the Camps.
“Mill One” was built eight years ago and was first class in every particular, being equipped with two band saws and a rotation resaw, most of the equipment of extra heavy duty type and much of it was designed for this mill which was one of the largest hardwood mills in the north country.
The new office building occupied by the White company and the general offices of the B. C. G. & A. R. R., which is located directly across the street from the scene of the big conflagration, suffered the loss of its roof and the contents of the building were badly damaged by smoke and water.
The railroad offices will at once be moved to a suite of rooms over the First National Bank.
At least a dozen roofs of buildings within a radius comprised of three square blocks were set afire by flying sparks and garden hose and bucket brigades were very active and did efficient work.
The new fire truck was constantly in operation and its services were indispensable. The occasion fully demonstrated its worth to the city.
The City Water Commissioner is also to be congratulated on being prepared by having both of the large city reservoirs filled and the pumping station in perfect order, this system was thus enabled to supply six lines of hose from the start of the fire until eight o’clock Saturday morning, when Fire Chief Thompson sent the fire machines to the hall and the firemen to bed.
The only water used from the Lake or the River was supplied by two lines of hose fed directly by the fire engine, which was stationed on the bridge on Lake Street.
The fire was a very spectacular one, the flames shooting for a great distance into the air and the heavens were lighted up as brightly as by day. It was reported that you might have read by its light in Petoskey.
The shooting of sparks reminded one of the old time Fourth of July celebrations and was witnessed by fully as many people.
Nearly our entire population was in evidence and the throng of spectators was thickly sprinkled with persons identified as having come from Petoskey, East Jordan, Charlevoix, Boyne Falls, and other adjacent territory.
A sob-sister might well be employed to write the human-interest stories of the evening: how small children became separated from their parents and the frantic search of mothers for their offspring; the plaintive whinny of the horses in the White Company’s barn until they were liberated and tied to trees along State Street; the wrecking of furniture which was rushed from houses in the threatened district; the bravery and endurance of the firemen who faced the blaze and suffered the suffocating heat and smoke; the prompt appearance of the electricians who protected the spectators and firefighters from live wires by removing same before they became dangerous.
A lack of space will not permit us to do these subjects justice, but many of the details are already known by our readers, a majority of whom witnessed them on this night of disaster.