Fire! In Downtown Jamestown By Karen E. Livsey, Fenton History Center Archivist

It was in March of 1910 that the Gokey Fire threatened to wipe out downtown Jamestown. It did wipe out parts of two blocks. The Gokey Shoe factory was located at the southeast corner of West Fourth and Cherry Streets taking up a full one quarter of the entire block. The Gokey Block was at the northeast corner of West Third and Cherry Streets, it too taking up a full one quarter of the entire block between Cherry and North Main Streets and West Third and West Fourth Streets. On the south side of West Third Street, stood the Sherman House, a multi-story hotel. It too was consumed by the fire when the fire jumped across West Third Street after it had spread from the factory to the Gokey Block on the second day of the fire.

With flames showing in the top southeast corner of the Gokey Shoe factory building, the volunteer fire departments of Jamestown responded to the fire shortly after 6 p. m. on Saturday March 12th. By 3:30 Sunday morning most of the fire was extinguished and some firemen were left to watch and try to extinguish the last bit of fire in the cornice of the northeast corner of the building. On Sunday afternoon, there was no evidence of fire and the Jamestown Business College located in the Gokey Block brought all their equipment and property, that had been removed during the fire, back into the College’s quarters.

About 11:30 p. m. on Sunday, March 13th, a report came into the chief of the Fire Department that some smoke was showing at the earlier fire scene. One of the volunteer fire companies was called out. Even with the fire department at the scene, within the half hour a roaring blaze was spreading through the partially burned Gokey shoe factory again. This was despite rain and snow falling during the day on Sunday and the large amount of water that had been poured onto the fire the night before. This fire spread quickly helped by a strong northwest wind. It continued to spread into the Gokey Block. The wind fanned the flames and the fire jumped West Third Street and burned down the Sherman House. Firemen from other communities were called and even Buffalo was loading men and equipment onto a train to come to Jamestown when the wind shifted and the fire was finally put out during the afternoon of Monday, March 14th. There was some smoke and water damage to other nearby buildings but no other fires.

Jamestown lost three significant buildings in that fire. Those buildings were occupied by a number of businesses which lost everything. The shoe factory building had been occupied by Dahlstrom’s Metallic Door Company, a tin shop and the engine room in the basement. The Floss Bowling Alley was on the second floor. The William Gokey shoe factory and Dahlstrom’s occupied the third floor with Ashworth and O’Dell’s worsted spinning plant on the fourth floor. The fifth floor had the Chadakoin Worsted mills. George F. Gokey’s shoe factory and the Gurney Ball Bearing Company occupied the sixth floor and Dahlstrom’s used the attic. The Gokey Block had Duffee’s dry goods store and two clothing stores. On the upper floors, there were many offices for lawyers and doctors and other businesses plus some living quarters for residents. The Sherman House was a hotel but also housed a barber shop.

The biggest loss was the death of two firemen and the injury to another. Fireman Alfred Shoesmith fell through a hole in the floor on the fifth floor which had been opened by the water tank on the roof crashing through the floors. Capt. Jonathan Hanson was killed by falling debris from the roof while he was in the alley between the buildings. Fireman Joel Oberg was injured when he fell five stories from the iron bridge that was torn loose from the buildings by falling debris.

The shoe factory continued in other quarters. Dahlstrom’s and Gurney Ball Bearing relocated and expanded, becoming major industries in Jamestown. The two textile operations ceased. The others occupants were forced to find other offices and accommodations.

Pictured: 587 West Third Street & Ruins of the Sherman House after the Great Fire of March 14, 1910, Jamestown, New York.  Photograph is courtesy of the Prendergast Library


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