Fire has always been a fear in small towns. What started out as a small fire would often spread to engulf many buildings due to their wooden construction and fire fighting equipment was usually insufficient or non-existent. Local residents formed bucket brigades to fight the flames, but often were unsuccessful in stopping the spread of the fire. Whether or not the building was insured – and the amount – was of great interest to residents.
A major fire swept through the little town of Sebree, Webster County, Kentucky around midnight on the evening of the 18th of January 1914. The details of the fire were given in the Sunday, 18 January 1914 issue of the Henderson Gleaner.
Shortly before midnight a fire broke out in Marion Ashby’s grocery and undertaking parlor on Main Street in Sebree. The alarm was sounded and every male citizen joined the bucket brigade in an attempt to save the town’s businesses.
From the Ashby store, the business of C.S. Cox next caught fire and then the barber shop of Lambert Walden. From the Walden shop, the flames burst through into the store of Mattingly and Beggs, then to B.F. Jewell, then the Opera House building and then the store of C.S. McCullaugh.
When the Opera House began to burn it was evident that nothing could save the Sebree Hotel from destruction. The fire fighters removed every thing they could from the building before it caught fire.
When the hotel began to burn, the wind changed and drove the flames in the direction of the L. & N. passenger and freight depots. A water train from Henderson arrived, and water from the tank cars was used to save the buildings.
Some of the losses were as follows:
Marion Ashby, $800 on grocery stock, insurance $250; no insurance on undertaking stock, loss $1000.
Lambert Walden, loss $1000, insurance $600.
Mattingly and Beggs, loss $800, insurance $500.
Cumberland Telephone Co., loss of cables, $500.
C.S. McCullaugh, loss $1800 on stock groceries, insurance $1050.
Opera House buildings and stores, $20,000, insurance not known. Building belonged to H.H. Holeman of Madisonville.
O.B. Sellars, building occupied by Oakley & Parker, $800, covered by insurance.
American Bell Telephone Co., loss of cables $300.
C.S. Cox, loss $1000, insurance $600.
Sebree Hotel, loss $10,000, insurance carried in Madisonville.
J.A. Vaughn, office, loss $200.