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On the Porch

On March 3, 1921, a destructive fire swept through Russell. The fire destroyed all the buildings in Block II east of the old Russell State Bank building. The estimated lost was between $75,000 and $100,000. The buildings that were completely destroyed were: F.S. Purdy store building; Zvorak & Works Restaurant building; Zvorak and Burckhardt building, occupied by Harry Musch’s plumbing and tinning shop; Zvorak Ice House; B.G. Henrichs Machine and Blacksmith Shop; and F.E. Munson Store building. The Russell State Bank and the City Drug Store were badly damaged. The fire spread rapidly and was not checked until it reached the new brick building of the Russell State Bank, which was badly smoked and scorched by the flames.

Heavy smoke was discovered around 7:45 p.m. from the basement of the Russell Mercantile Company, a general store operated by Iner Bundlie located in the F.S Purdy building. It was believed that the origin of the fire started from the furnace. Russell did not have a waterworks system and the gasoline fire pump refused to work. Residents formed a bucket brigade and were assisted in fighting the fire by recruits from hundreds of people who came from miles around. The fire spread rapidly to the other buildings. The contents of other buildings to some extent were taken from the buildings before the flames enveloped them.

The Marshall Fire Department was called upon for assistance. Dozens of cars with firemen and hand extinguishers left immediately, while the fire chief and others remained to get some of the equipment on the scene. According to the News-Messenger of Lyon County on March 4, 1921: “The Short Line train crew had just arrived, and were ready to run to Russell, but shortly a Great Northern freight came in from the north and the dispatcher wired the agent to offer the Marshall department any of their equipment, and an engine and flat car were in readiness. However, after a consultation, it was decided that the loading and unloading of the big fire engine would be difficult, and take more time than to haul the outfit by truck on the state road.

Two five-ton trucks from the Marshall Tile & Concrete company were quickly hooked in tandem to the engine, loaded with hose and firemen, and started off with a roar. When out about nine miles they met cars returning from Russell, and were advised that the fire was well under control and that their services would not be needed, unless a wind should come up. There was no prospect of wind, so the firemen returned.”

Among the families who suffered personal losses were the George Zvorak family, John Fowlds family, and the Frank Munson family, all of whom lived on the second floor of the buildings. The Masonic Lodge above the drug store was severely damaged and much of the contents had to be replaced. Some families and the restaurant did not have insurance to cover their losses and the other businesses were under-insured. It was the brick structure of the bank that helped contain the fire and saved the rest of the street from total obliteration. The City of Russell passed an ordinance shortly afterward, that all new businesses were to be constructed out of brick thereafter.

The photograph featured this week shows Russell in 1914. The buildings that were destroyed by the fire in 1921 are shown in front.

The Lyon County Historical Society (LCHS) is a non-profit, member-supported organization. LCHS operates the Lyon County Museum at 301 W Lyon St in Marshall. The Lyon County Museum is open to visitors. To contact us, visit our website: www.lyoncomuseum.org, call: 507-537-6580, email: director@lyoncomuseum.org, or on our Facebook page.

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