This appeared in The Gazette on December 30, 1899. This early Christmas morning fire was the most disastrous fire Hastings had experienced in years.
One of the most disastrous fires for many years visited this city early Monday morning, and in less than four hours nearly three blocks of business houses were burned, together with a large portion of their contents. The weather was bitter cold, with a strong northwest wind, and for some time a general conflagration seemed inevitable. Most of the loss outside of the mill and planning factory was caused by cinders, property over half a mile distance having to be carefully watched for the burning brands which came seething through the air as though hurried by some demoniac force. It was a sorry Christmas Day for Hastings. The loss is roughly estimated at upwards to $120,000 with an insurance of about $15,000, and the injury to our business interests is far reaching in its present and future aspects.
The fire originated in the sawmill of R. C. Libbey & Co., and when discovered shortly before two a.m. it was under full headway. From there it quickly spread to the barn, lumber piles, office, planing factory, warehouses, etc., and east to St. John’s Hotel and saloon of Kleis & Grub, where it was checked by the Emerson brick warehouse. Crossing Second Street the large warehouses filled with hardwood lumber, building paper, etc., added additional fuel to the flames, taking the whole of the block to the east and south, the only building remaining being Theodore Schaal’s on the alley, in a badly damaged condition. In the rear of the warehouses was the dwelling occupied by Matt Reuter, which shared the general fate.
The remaining half of this block escaped as by a miracle, but the next one on Vermillion Street was burned over up to the brick shops of G. W. Morse, corner of Fourth. The large barn of W. R. Mather was set on fire by cinders, which soon communicated to adjoining building, gaining such headway that the department was entirely unable to save them. Good work was done on Joseph’s Cavanaugh’s barn and the sheds of the St Croix Lumber Company, or there is no knowing how far the flames would have reached in that wooden district. The towers of the courthouse were on fire a number of times, but a few of our citizens rallied with buckets and made a victorious fight against the elements. The roof of the Church of the Guardian Angels and their parochial school building received a fiery visitation, which a little water soon extinguished.
The cause of the fire will probably never be known, but it is supposed to be due to carelessness upon the part of someone. The mill had been shut down six weeks, and the watchman says that everything seemed al right an hour previous to its discovery.