Holland City News, Thursday, October 13, 1932

Eyewitness Tells of Burning of Holland in ‘71

Newspaper Man From Neighboring City Was Here When Holland Was Swept By Fire

The editor of the Holland City News came across an old copy of the Hartford-Dayspring printed in Oct., 1871, when the editor from the city to the south of us, undoubtedly long since gone to his reward, happened to be in Holland when the fire broke out, which destroyed the greater part of our city at that time.

This week is just 61 years ago that Holland was laid in ashes when a fierce forest fire was swept into it by a heavy wind, entering the city from the then swamps, back of the Third Reformed Church.

There are no Holland newspaper stories of reviews given by eyewitnesses, since all the newspapers in the city, small as they were, had their plants destroyed, and it was weeks before material and money were available to start over again.

The article from the Hartford Day-Spring was the only newspaper account of the fire, where the editor was on the ground to write about it. Being a stranger here, the Hartford editor, in the confusion that followed, did not get all names and details correct as our fire history gives it and as repeatedly published in the Holland City News.

The editor, however, surely gives a vivid description of this conflagration, chronicling as he sees it, the greatest crisis in our history.

Upon Holland’s ruins a new city has been built. Our streets, parks, public buildings, beautiful homes, industries and business districts speak for themselves. On the whole it has been sixty years of substantial progress. In fact, so substantial that it should instill confidence in ourselves to meet any crisis of less importance. Surely our troubles today are but minor compared with the crisis of 1871 when Holland folk had no money, no homes, with an outlook only of blackened ruins and smoke-filled skies.

Our forebears had grit enough, had perseverance enough, had confidence enough in themselves and in their city, that with religious faith and guidance they plodded on their way to greater and better things, resulting in the Holland we now behold.

If we follow the path of those who have gone before, future years cannot help but bring to us and our posterity greater blessings, the fruits of an eventful past.

It is rather a co-incidence that fire prevention week throughout the nation comes during the anniversary week of the great Holland fire. That’s why folks were careful, for fire meant destruction.

Fire prevention has been one of Holland’s greatest developments and might be added to the achievements listed above.

The News prints below the article from the Hartford-Dayspring News in 1871.

Incidents of the Burning of Holland City in 1871

The following description of the burning of Holland is from the Hartford- (Van Buren County) Dayspring, whose editor was eyewitness of the terrible conflagration, which swept one of the most enterprising places in our state.

About two o’clock on the morning of the 9th of October, the terrible conflagration commenced that destroyed the pleasant city of Holland.

Most of the bells of the city, which had sounded the cry for help since sundown, had now stopped. Their plaintive call and the inhabitants of the doomed city shrieked for succor and protection, as the flames from the burning church and dwellings in the south part of the city lit up the heavens and forests for miles away. Soon the Second Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church were on fire, now the City Hotel and the finest stores on Main Street. Here the fire became terrific and women, men and children fled the city in panic stricken horror.

H. D. Post and his family were aroused just in time to wrap their nightclothes around them, leaving their home and fine property, which had required 25 years to accumulate, to the greedy ravenous flames.

At two o’clock a young woman died and her husband took her flimsy body in his arms, and by the humanity of Mrs. Bostwick it was watched and cared for in the open air in the outside of the city, until daylight came, when it was buried.

An old lady, delirious with despair, rushed into the swamp and was mired up to her body, but was rescued by her children before the flames had reached her.

A poor woman, whose infant lay a corpse in her parlor, grasped the stark body and ran frantically to the woods. The next day she visited the blackened site where stood her home, still carrying her dead baby, whom she refused to have buried, saying it was all she had left.

One woman, who was under doctor’s care, arose from her bed for the first time in twenty-four hours and saved herself by flight and, strange to say, has been well ever since.

An old lady, who lived alone, was burned in her cabin; she probably not having awakened until the flames reached her body.

Mrs. Vervene, a widow lady who buried her husband in May, grasped her two small children and involuntarily found refuge in the cemetery a mile away, and was found about noon on that day wailing over her dead husband’s grave, calling his name piteously in that hour of her great distress.

The magnitude of that fire is with out parallel in Michigan history. Sixty-four stores were burned. Forty-seven of these were never entered after they closed on Saturday night. Six churches, three hotels, three printing offices-the Gazetteer, Grondwet and De Hollander- two large tanneries, two stave factories, the large City Grist Mill, with a thousand bushels of wheat, two banks, two art galleries, four lawyers’ offices, five saloons and over two hundred dwellings with their entire contents were burned. Four hours after the fire struck the city, the last of the structures lay prostrate in smoking ruins, and the rising sun looked down upon the smoldering homes of nineteen hundred persons. Many sturdy pioneers, now aged and gray with toils of the last quarter century in rearing a home and gathering around them competence for old age, were reduced from their hoarded thousands to a paltry hundred dollars.

One aged and infirm old lady could only be induced to leave her burning home by actual force, while scores rushed frantic for a place of refuge in paths lit up by the fagots of their burning homes. Six refugees from the annihilated city walked to the city of Grand Rapids before they stopped to rest. The heavy bell in the Third Church kept up its piteous warning cry until the wild flames had climbed the spire and burned in twain the rope high in the belfry. For miles around, the heavens were a glare with the light of the burning city, and vessels tossed on Lake Michigan on that eventful night were lighted towards the port of Holland, full fifty watery miles away.

Editor’s note--- Undoubtedly the old lady mentioned as being burned to death in her cottage was Mrs. Tolk, who is known to have been burned in her small cottage, then located on the north side of Ninth Street just east of Pine Avenue.

The Hartford editor was correct in stating the course of the fire, which started back of the Third Reformed Church. It burned everything in its path along the east side of Pine Avenue (then Pine Street), and swept to Black Lake, burning everything between Pine and the public square, now Centennial Park. The public square saved that part of the city directly north and east, but with a change of the winds, the fire continued on River Avenue to the lake and swamp, consuming everything on Eighth or Main Street, as it was then called, and the fire stopped finally at a small dwelling where the Holland theater is now located. It naturally burned itself out at the large swamp now on Fourth Street.


Transcriber:  Joan Van Spronsen
Created: 17 May 2007
URL: http://ottawa.migenweb.net/
holland/history/1871fire.html