In April of 1917, the town of Elkton narrowly escaped a major catastrophe. Had the fire companies of Newark and Chesapeake City not intervened, the east end of the town may have gone up in flames and destroyed many residential homes.
The blaze started around 2 pm from an overheated stove in one of several attached frame houses on Collins Avenue. The April 13, 1917 issue of the Midland Journal reported that the local fire company, Singerly Fire Company, battled against very high winds and very low water pressure. This made the firefighters’ job even more difficult.
The fire quickly destroyed three double houses (six in total) owned by Samuel Keys. Two buildings owned by Nathan Karl were quickly destroyed by the wind-blown flames. The Newark Post’s April 11, 1917 edition reported that the other homes on Collins Avenue were saved only by keeping the roofs wet.
Embers from the fire started blowing across High Street into the residential area near the Elkton Methodist Church. Elkton town authorities became alarmed and telephoned Newark, DE’s and Chesapeake City’s fire companies. Newark responded with its automobile steamer and hoses. Chesapeake City sent its hoses.
Elkton’s firefighters continued to battle the flames and wind-blown embers, as the other two fire companies arrived to help. The water pressure problem continued until Superintendent Ayerst of the Radnor Pulp Mill threw his fire pumps into service on the town’s water main. This action forced water from the Big Elk Creek into the water main, giving an increased supply. Once Newark and Chesapeake City arrived with their equipment, the fires were controlled.
Embers and sparks from the original fire were blown to the roofs of houses on Milburn Street. Those buildings were saved by keeping the roofs wet. In addition, several East Main Street buildings suffered minor damage. Judge Albert Constable’s barn was slightly damaged when sparks landed on it. The homes of Henry Vinsinger and Mrs. Henry H. Gilpin were damaged by flying embers, but the flames were quickly extinguished by the firefighters.
The wind carried embers to the Methodist Church, which suffered more severe damage than the homes on Main Street. The Cecil Democrat reported that firefighters found the fire at the Methodist Church was the most stubborn. The church’s bell tower was slightly damaged, but the church itself was not greatly damaged. The vestibule of the church flooded from the water used fighting the fire.
Once the flames were extinguished, the damages were totaled. The Elkton Methodist Church suffered $300 in damages. The two houses destroyed by the fire and owned by Nathan Karl were also assessed at $300. The homes destroyed by the fire and owned by Samuel Keys were completely destroyed. Mr. Keys owned six houses – three attached double houses. The value of this building was $1600.
One Singerly Fire Company firefighter was injured during the fire. The Midland Journal and the Cecil Democrat both reported that Jacob J. Minster was struck by one of the local “auto chemical trucks”. Minster was hit at the corner of High Street and Collins Avenue. Minster suffered no broken bones, but was confined to his home.
The Town of Elkton was fortunate that they were able to call the Newark and Chesapeake City fire companies on the telephone. If phones had not been installed yet in 1917, the east end of town would have quickly burned down.
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