Savannah Morning News coverage, January 20, 1907: Beaufort Fire

The Beaufort Fire of January 19, 1907 was the most disastrous fire to date. When the embers cooled 40 structures were damaged or gone. The Beaufort Town Council adopted restrictions on building materials and placement at its next meeting in reaction to the devastation. Read about those restrictions in the “Ordinances of the Town Council of Beaufort, SC: April 1866 – August 1915” microfilm in the Beaufort District Collection Research Room.

The newspaper article transcriptions below are from a web page written by Dennis Adams (Information Services Coordinator, Retired) for the old Beaufort County Library website at various points between 1998 and 2007. The articles were transcribed and republished with permission granted by the editors of the Savannah Morning News on 27 February 1998. Text appearing in Arial font is the transcription. Text appearing in teal was supplied by me. I also have chosen to supply punctuation to make the articles easier to read. – Grace Cordial 

The daily Savannah Morning News ran its first stories about the Beaufort fire on January 20, 1907:

Beaufort Loses Stores and Homes by a fire that caused property loss estimated at $500,000 to $700,000. Fire started in Scheper’s Barn. Fanned by strong wind it soon rendered the Department helpless.

Beaufort, S. C., Jan. 19 — Fire broke out at 1:30 o’clock this morning in the barn and stables of F. W. Scheper on Bay Street, and fanned by a stiff southwest breeze, it resulted in one of the most disastrous calamities that has ever visited Beaufort. [Please note: The fire actually started in the afternoon around 1:30 pm. Future transcriptions will rectify this error.]

From the commencement the fire department was powerless, and soon the raging flames took possession of Scheper’s large grocery store and consumed the three-story building, in the lower floor of which was stored a large stock of groceries and supplies. The People’s Bank, of which Mr. Scheper was president and which adjoined his store, was totally consumed. The bank’s papers and property were saved, including the large fireproof safe. [F.W. Scheper’s Wharf and Grocery store were located at the base of Carteret Street very near what is now the Wood’s Bridge.]

Enlarged segment of the 1905 Sanborn Map for Beaufort, Sheet 7 (University of South Carolina)

Adjoining were a row of stores, which were all consumed.

The fire crossed the street and the large and well-stocked hardware and paint store of Messrs. N. Christensen & Sons shared a like fate, and half the block behind it was totally burned.

The fire crossed the next street and consumed the law offices of Mr. Thomas Talbird and the row of small houses that he owned, extending to the city market, which was burned.

Then the flames crossed the next street, and the Town Hall and Council Chamber was [sic] a total loss, and the adjoining houses between it and the Methodist Church were burnt.

During the prevalence of the raging and furious flames the sparks were blown in a northeasterly direction, and several smaller houses, including the residence of Mr. W. F. Sanders, about an eighth of a mile off, caught, and from the Sanders residence the large and ancient mansion of the Talbirds, owned by Mr. Thomas Talbird, caught and was totally consumed.

The house on the opposite corner of the street occupied and owned by Mr. J. N. Wallace and recently handsomely renovated, was burned, and next door to it the residence of Mr. W. J. Thomas, with his two rented housed in the rear, was consumed.

Mr. James M. Crofut’s store, adjacent to Mr. Christensen’s store, became a mass of ruins, and the next store of Mrs. J. Levin also was nearly consumed.

At one time it looked as if the whole town would be destroyed.

The losses are estimated roughly are between $500,000 and $700,000, upon which there is not more than perhaps one-third insurance.

Mr. Scheper’s property was fairly well insured, it is said. Messrs. Christensen & Sons, Thomas Talbird and James N. Crofut had no insurance whatever. Mr. Thomas’ property, it is reported, was partially insured.

The water supply failed.

In Column 2 on page 1 of that same Savannah Morning News issue of January 20, 1907 ran another article:

Much Interest Here in Fire. Hundreds of inquiries. Mrs. J.N. Wallace here while home was destroyed.

There was general interest in Savannah last night after it became known that Beaufort had been visited by a disastrous conflagration.

Communication was difficult and at times very unsatisfactory. While the telephone and telegraph lines were working those for whom messages were intended were too busily engaged in looking after their personal and property interest there to pay much attention to outside matters.

It was late before the details of the disaster were received in Savannah. The interest felt here was evidenced throughout the early evening when hundreds of persons inquired by telephone of the Morning News for information. Many Savannahians have friends and relatives, as well as business interests, in Beaufort.

Shortly after the fire started and when it was seen that the local fire fighting facilities were not adequate to control the situation Intendant Anderson wired Mayor-elect Tideman of the impending calamity, and suggested that he would probably ask for assistance. The Intendant, or Mayor, stated that “the town is burning up,” that four blocks were already gone, and high winds prevailed.

The telegram was delivered to both Mayor Myers and Mr. Tiedeman [sic] and Mayor Myers instructed Fire Chief Maguire to communicate with Beaufort and acquaint himself with the situation.

Chief Maguire talked with the Mayor of Beaufort and it was decided it would not be worth while to send any apparatus from Savannah as it would require half a [sic] hour to prepare and nearly four hours to make the trip.

Mrs. J. N. Wallace of Beaufort came to Savannah yesterday morning to be present with her father, the Rev. William Campbell, who was operated on at the Savannah Hospital. She left her three children in Beaufort and was naturally very anxious about them until she succeeded in hearing that although her new home was among those totally destroyed, the children were safe. The children are with their father and the nurse. It was understood that Mr. Wallace was a heavy loser.

Mrs. Wallace left early this morning by steamer for her home. Mr. Campbell was reported to be doing well after the operation.

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