Submitted by C.F. Ferdarko
What follows is an excerpt from a booklet, One Hundred Years in Brisbin,Houtzdale and Woodward Township published in 1976 compiled from the filesof the Houtzdale Observer, History of Houtzdale written by the late John B.McGrath in 1912 and Histories of Clearfield County written in 1887 and 1911.What the Johnestown Flood was to Cambria County, certainly the Brisbin Fire wasto at least this part of Clearfield County. It was the morning of Friday May 2, 1884when the wind was blowing with nearly hurricane speed that the residents of Brisbinrealized with sudden alarm that what had appeared to be a fairly remote forest firewas sweeping down the hollow toward their newly incorporated borough. Storiesvary as to the cause. one is that some people west of the town were burning brush;one is that sparks from the dinkey engine caused it; another is that a forest firecaused by careless smokers started the blaze and still another is that sparks werecarried from the mill's slab burner where the shaving and chips were burned aswaste.
With the west wind blowing so strongly that morning it wasn't long until the fire wasseen to be approaching the sawmill of Hoover, Hughes and Co. Immediately all themen available were sent out to fight the fire. This was about 10 o'clock in the morning.By noon it was evident that the mill was doomed. What really set the town afire wasthe fact that when the fire reached the great piles of boards outside the mill the terrificwind lifted them high into the air and hurled them through the town. By two o'clockthe mill was a seething mass and the town was an uproar of confusion-crackling offlames, rush and roar of the wind, screams of women, wails of children, shouts of theof the men. By half past three, Brisbin had been wiped out and the fire had moved ontoward Sterling destroying Powel's trestle. At 6PM the fire was still raging at Sterling.
So far as we know, at least one person was burned to death, an old lady namedMrs. Donovan who died in a futile attempt to rescue her pig. Mr. T. C. Cryan ofthe Hoover Hughes Co. saved his own life by burying himself in the earth whichhe was compelled to do twice.
Nearly everyone over sixty years old today who lived in Brisbin or Houtzdalethen recalls vividly some of the incidents of that memorable day. One of ourtownsmen, then a child of barely six, very distinctly remembers having disobedientlyrun off from his mother and being some distance from home when the panic spread,was terrorized to find he could scarcely return home because the hot stones andearth so badly burned his little bare feet.
Some are like "Aunt Kate' Bateman of Brisbin who remembers climbing to the roofof the house and there, with bucketfuls of water handed her by her children, keepingit wet with the aid of blankets, coats and anything else available. And her little housesurvived although partly because it was not situated directly in the main sweep of thefire.
Nearly 220 families were left homeless and only about a dozen buildings remainedstanding in the borough. The people of Houtzdale and parts of Sterling quickly madeplaces in their homes for the victims of the fire. Even on the same day, the HoutzdaleRelief Committee was formed which immediately sent out telegrams to the principaltowns in Clearfield, Centre, Blair and Huntingdon counties. This committee and theBrisbin Committee were active for some months afterward. The total relief fund amountedto over $11,000.
It soon became evident that the people of Brisbin would not long remain discouraged.Let us quote from the Houtzdale Observer of January 8, 1885, a little over seven monthslater, which says,"Brisbin today is ahead of the Brisbin which on the evening of the of Mayhad been reduced to ashes. With better buildings, with new energies calledforth by disaster, her citizens are more self-reliant and stronger, and whilethe fire was a terrible loss in many ways, it showed forth the highest andbest attributes of the citizens of both boroughs."
Contributed by C.F. Ferdarko for use by the Clearfield County Genealogy
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