Willennar Genealogy Center’s collection is full of Throwback Thursday potential, so let’s get our #TBT on!
Sometimes delving into local history seems like following up on an endless list of questions and loose ends.
Almost inevitably, there is always some bit of information that has slipped through the cracks, some answer or clue that has been lost—temporarily, perhaps, but possibly forever.
One of the most notable instances of this in DeKalb County History is in the 1913 “courthouse fire,” which resulted in the loss of a number of records which could have been used for research today.
In February of 1913, the construction of our current DeKalb County courthouse was well under way. More than 80 workmen were on the job, overseen by the foremen and project contractor J. B. Goodall, and the exterior appears to have been completed, though the first floor was covered in stack after stack of hundreds of bags of cement, according to the Garrett Clipper.
The county offices, of course, still needed to function, and had been given a temporary home away from all of the hustle and bustle of construction in the McIntyre Building. In December 1910, the county commissioners began renting offices there for the treasurer, auditor, recorder, clerk, sheriff, commissioners, surveyor, and county assessor, as well as space for court rooms. The Double-Fabric Tire Company and the offices of the Auburn Courier were also housed in the building, which stood between 8th & 9th Streets, with Jackson Street just to the west.
For two years, the McIntyre Building housed the “temporary courthouse.”
On Saturday, February 8, 1913, a fire mysteriously started in the offices of the Auburn Courier. The flames were believed to have broken out around 6:30, and within minutes, could be seen all the way from Garrett, according to the February 13th issue of the Garrett Clipper. The fire department was called, but though they fought the fire for hours, they were unable to save the buildings. Low water pressure— “a weakness that has long existed [in Auburn],” according to the Angola Herald—was blamed for the loss.
The cause of the fire was unknown, though one theory held that some “inflammable material” from the Double-Fabric Tire Company had fallen down an elevator shaft to the rear of the Courier office and caught fire, setting the newspaper office ablaze as well.
The losses were enormous. Though two typewriters were rescued by a Courier reporter, the newspaper office and the tire company lost practically everything housed in the building. Fortunately, many court records were saved; almost all of the books from the treasurer’s, recorder’s, auditor’s, and sheriff’s offices were carried out. Only 40 of over 200 court records, however, were saved, making it nearly “impossible to carry on any court business which is unfinished,” according to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
At the time, the total loss was estimated to be between $75,000 and $100,000, which would be roughly equal to $1,800,000 – $2,400,000 in damages today.