HISTORIC BRAMWELL - 1910 FIRE
"There was no more Bramwell"
By: LOU STOKER for the Daily Telegraph
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following look back at the Bramwell fire of 1910 includes an interview with since-deceased eyewitness Goldie Rickmon.
The weather forecast for Friday, January 7, 1910 was “Snow and colder Friday... cold wave, high northwest winds.” This followed an unseasonably warm Thursday, with rain and a balmy 55 degrees. Thursday had been election day in many towns of Four Seasons Country, including Bramwell. Mayor J.A. Waddell was elected to his sixth term along with the same men who had served with him for five consecutive terms, each of one year. Friday, January 7, a 13-year old Goldie Rickmon walked from her home on Renova Street up Bluestone Avenue to school, bundled up against the cold wave that moved in during the night. The icy wind picked up and was blowing fiercely as she climbed the street. She looked across the river at the downtown as she did every morning. Because of the cold wind, there was more smoke from coal fires billowing out the chimneys of houses and businesses than the day before. She was in class at Bramwell Graded School when the news broke that a fire had started in Smith & O’Connor’s new poolroom and bowling alley on South River Street. More news came to the school that the wind had whipped flames from the original site to buildings on Main Street and many structures were engulfed. Coal companies along the railroad line disbursed miners to fight the raging fire. In the telephone office, Susie Young stayed at her switchboard, calling for help from all agencies. She ended the ordeal by being named “the heroine of the fire.” Goldie remembered, “The big boys were sent from the school to help fight the fire. We girls could only stand at the windows and watch the black smoke as it rose from the town. I was worried about my mother and little sister, Gladys, but was not allowed to leave the safety of school.” The firefighters’ labors were daunting. “You know, it was cold. So cold. They said the water froze to ice as it was sprayed on the burning buildings,” continued Goldie. As the fire raged, it turned the capitol of the coalfield to ashes. Only foundations were left of the 21 buildings that burned. Loss was estimated at $200,000 by Mayor Waddell. “Practically every business in town of Bramwell devoured by furious flames, “ was the January 8 Bluefield Daily Telegraph headline. Special sightseeing trains were dispatched from the Bluefield station on Saturday and Sunday. Many people rode north “to see devastation of the unique town.” Businesses never to be reconstructed included the undertaker’s parlor of J. L. Lee. Also hardware stores, boarding houses, tailor shop, attorney’s offices, Godfrey’s restaurant and Mayor Waddell’s office and home. Five shanties, outhouses and stables were not rebuilt. Located on the corner of Main and Bloch Street, the huge Bluestone Inn was repaired. Edward Cooper’s Victorian house was damaged but not beyond repair. He chose the opportunity to purchase all the property from his house to the end of Main Street plus the property on South River St. His “new” Queen Anne mansion with a copper roof stands 100 years after it was built. It has always been in the Cooper family. Built on the vacant corner lot was Bryant Pharmacy, just before Christmas, 1910. Roscoe Simpson had his own barber shop with a fine house attached. When it burned, he relocated his business to Simmons and constructed an ante-bellum style house in Spicertown. Mrs. Jennie Pence lost her three-story brick hotel at the end of Main Street. She immediately began securing funds to rebuild in 1910. It looks much the same as the original. For decades only the pharmacy building on one end of Main and the hotel building on the other end stood. Mrs. Belcher’s Boarding House had been located in the center of Main Street. A two-story structure with an ell, it housed the post office and other businesses on the ground floor. All that remained of her business was a set of concrete steps. Nothing was built on the site for more than a decade. For years, men sat on the steps and talked while boys shot marbles in the dirt behind them. When asked what they talked about, the late Edward Pasley answered, “They talked about the fire.” There were many reasons given for the fire’s origin. Although the official cause was an overheated flue in the poolroom, there was as much speculation as there were people talking about it. “My daddy always thought the best explanation was that a mouse was in the pocket of an overcoat hanging on the wall in the poolroom. The mouse chewed on a match in the pocket and started the fire that destroyed Bramwell.” Goldie smiled as she related the story. Well, who is to say if it were a chimney fire or a match-chewing mouse? Bramwell as it was on that cold day 100 years ago had disappeared in the flames. When school was dismissed on the afternoon of January 7, 1910 and Goldie walked home, she observed, “There was no more Bramwell.”
TOWN OF BRAMWELL ~ 1888
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