On this page are newspaper articles and recollections concerning that devastating night on January 20, 1933.

photo credit:  John G. Coleman Collection

Smethport's Greatest Fire story from the January 26, 1933 edition of
The  McKean County Miner
Worst Fire Ever in History of County

Smethport has ever known ravaged its business section early Friday morning destroying thirteen business places, one large hotel building used as an apartment house, and three garages, leaving in its wake burned wreckage and a few walls with the interior a mass of ruins. Eight families were driven from their apartments, some of them having no time to save anything except a few articles of clothing.

Fanned by a high wind the flames spread rapidly and every business house on Main Street was threatened, as flying sparks caught fire on the roofs of many buildings as far down as the Wright house. Eight fire companies, representing Mt. Jewett, Eldred, Coudersport, Bradford, Olean, Kane, Duke Center and Port Allegany augmented the Smethport department and all worked hard to save Smethport from what seemed total destruction.

The business places destroyed were the Corner Drug Store, the Agriculture Extension office, Chas. Lemmler's harness shop, Justice of the Peace R. C. Gleason's office, the City Meat Market, the Lindholm Grocery, Gaskin's Barber shop, C. W. Masser's Hardware store, the Imperial hotel building, on the ground floor of which were located Acker's Restaurant and the Saulpaugh News Agency, Larsen's Restaurant, next door, and Infantino's shoe repair shop next to the restaurant. Karlen's tailor shop next to Infantino's was slightly damaged.

The persons driven from their rooms: Miss Ella Parsons, who lived over the Agricultural Extension office. Miss Parsons was aroused from slumber and fortunately saved most of her belongings. Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Lindholm, who lived in apartments in the Imperial building owned by Daniel Bacon, were able to save some clothing. Mr. and Mrs. James Larsen and family, who lived over the Spinning Wheel, saved part of their belongings, many of which were prized antiques. Mr. and Mrs. Charles Infantino, who lived in the building housing the Infantino shoe repair shop, lost all their furniture, but the equipment in the shop was not totally destroyed, as the fire was put out before it reached it.

Damaged fronts on the Specht building, the Miner office, the Grange Bank, the Hamlin Bank. I. E. Gabriel's store, and other buildings show how close they came to sharing the fate of the burned structures.

The fore was discovered at midnight in under the stairway between City Meat Market, owned by S. J. Hayes, and Chas. Lemmler's Harness Shop...were seriously threatened by the flying sparks.

It was a night of terror for at one time it seemed as if the whole town might be destroyed in the configuration. no place seemed safe with the sparks being carried in every direction. many families had their homes entirely dismantled and were ready for instant flight in case the fire veered in their direction. Business places all along Main Street had books and valuables... ...the Smethport Water Company lines and Hamlin Lake, soon had many streams of water turned on the fire.

By 3:30 o'clock Friday morning the fire had done its worst and was stopped at the Infantino building, leaving the Karlen tailor shop unharmed, except for slight damage by heat and water, which seemed almost a miracle but was really the result of efficient fire fighting of the company which was directing its efforts on the Infantino building.

As soon as the Smethport Fire Department arrived on the scene the City Meat Market was a roaring blaze of fire and firemen directed their efforts to the Lemmler store, from which the flames spread rapidly to the farm bureau and the Corner Drug Store. Two lines of hose had been strung, one from each pumper, but for a time only one stream of water was available due to the breakdown of one pumper. This fact seriously hampered the firefighters in their work. Before outside help could arrive fire caught in the Lindholm building, quickly spreading to the Masser Hardware, where bravery on the part of local and visiting men stopped the blaze.  The Fry Company store, adjacent to Masser Hardware in a precarious position but aside from damage by water and smoke...the worse from the experience.

Sparks caught the Imperial Hotel on fire at about the same time as the Lindholm building was burning.  It quickly spread to the Spinning Wheel Restaurant and Infantino shoe repair where only after a stubborn...flames were quelled.

Smoldering ruins mark the...where the burned buildings...masses of twisted iron, piles of...and wreckage of all kinds are all that remains of these flourishing business places.  The total loss will run...least $300,000, only partly covered by insurance.

The business places burned...owners of the buildings in which...were housed were:

Corner Drug Store, frame structure, owned by Dr. W. A. Ostrander.
Agricultural extension Office, frame structure, owned by Dr. W. A. Ostrander.
Chas. Lemmler's Harness Shop and R. C. Gleason's office in the top floor, frame structure, owned by  R. C. Gleason.
City Meat Market, frame, owned by R. C. Gleason.
Lindholm's Grocery and Gaskin's Barber Shop, brick, owned by J. A. Lindholm.
Masser's Hardware, brick, owned by W. O. Hamlin of New York City.
Imperial Hotel, housing Acker's Restaurant and the Smethport...Agency, frame, owned by Daniel Bacon.
Spinning Wheel Restaurant,...owned by Louis and Nat Raymer
Infantino's shoe shop, frame, owned by Charles Infantino.

A number of the firms whose business places were destroyed have already contracted for other store buildings and either have moved in or plan to do so in the immediate future.  Masser Hardware will in the Hamilton block where the Red Cross supplies have been kept recently;  the Lindholm Grocery will be located in the Munn building, formerly occupied by the Mellert-Weidne...Construction Company which has...into the Wright House; the Saulpaugh News Agency has moved into the...sett building formerly occupied by the Erhart Novelty Shop;  and the...Gaskin Barber Shop is temporarily located in the east side of and will be located in a...position in the Specht Insurance Agency building.

Since the fire Smethport has been filled with sightseers and Sunday's traffic was the most congested it has ever been in the town.  People far and near drove here to see the remains of the fire, the story of...had been broadcast by radio...morning from station KDKA...burgh, and other stations, and appeared in all the city papers.

Smethport people were busy receiving massages from worried relatives who feared that they might have been among those who suffered from the fire.  The town is still suffering from the shock of a terrible...which two lives were lost by drowning on Monday night and the town was partly destroyed by fire a few days later.

One interesting phase of the...tion following the fire was the...with which the business firms...people generally adjusted the change made necessary.  The destruction of their business places...several cases the fire had not...before arrangements had been...for other buildings.  another...feature was the splendid cooperation and friendly feeling shown at a time when help was most needed.


    Dr. W. A. Ostrander has rented the apartment over the Karlen Tailor Shop and will open up his office there.
    The Masser Hardware will be open for business on the first of February in the Hamilton Block.  The Red Cross supplies were moved Tuesday to the basement of the Monheimer store.
    The pet bears owned by Dr. W. A. Ostrander were removed to a place of safety the morning of the fire.  The animals were badly frightened before they were rescued.
    The Fry Company suffered a loss from damage by water to a small amount of stock.
    The Agricultural Extension Association has secured temporary offices in the court house and is carrying on its work as usual.
    Elwood Gaskin, local barber, whose shop next the the Lindholm store was destroyed by the fire, has established temporary headquarters in one side of the Miner Office.  He has rented the annex on the Specht building and will move there as soon as it is ready for occupancy.

Chas Lemmler, borough treasurer for the past twelve years, who lost his store in the fire, has opened up a temporary office in the hose house.

The Mt. Jewett Fire Department experienced difficulty in making connections to Smethport fire hydrants due to the fact that their fittings did not fit the Smethport hydrants.  After connections were made they did splendid work in combating the flames of the Lindholm and Masser buildings.  Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Larson who were Buffalo visitors Thursday...and others whose eyes were injured by the cinders and smoke.  Around forty cases were treated for this trouble.

Two Olean firemen were injured while fighting the fire Friday morning.  They were Captain Jack O'Hara of Chemical Company No. 1, who suffered an injured ankle, and Fireman Francis Ryan, of the same company, who suffered back injuries when a floor gave way while they were directing a stream of water on the flames.


A false rumor has been afloat to the effect that the Emporium Fire Department was called to aid in the Smethport fire and failed to respond.  The fact is that Emporium was not called, and we feel certain it would have been ready and willing to come in case it had been.

The following letter in reference to the rumor stated above was received by Daniel Bacon, burgess of Smethport, from Dr. L. L. Lathrop, burgess of Emporium:

                                                                                                                             Jan. 23, 1933
Smethport, Pa.
Dear sir:
    "The report has reached my ears several times since your unfortunate fire last week, that our fire department was called by you people, and that I refused to allow them to take any equipment over.  The last report I heard came directly from a man now living in Smethport.  I have not been able to secure knowledge of any request made for assistance, as none was made to me direct from any source.  As soon as I found out about it that morning, I called
Chief Haupt who had received no request, but who had even called over there, and ws told that it was under control, and that you had all the equipment needed.
    "My purpose in writing, was to assure you, and the citizens of Smethport, that the Emporium Fire Department was at your disposal, and ready to leave at a moment's notice.  I am sorry that you people have suffered so heavily on account of this fire, and trust that this letter will clear up any misunderstanding that may have arisen."
Cordially yours,
    The following list is the approximate loss sustained by those who lost their buildings and stocks or suffered losses by fire, smoke, water, and heat:
J. A. Lindholm, total loss - $50,000.
Dr. W. A. Ostrander, total loss - $25,000.
John Saulpaugh, total loss - $4,600.
Acker's Restaurant, total loss - $2,000.
Mrs. Mary Hussey, total loss - $1,000.
McKean County Miner, damage to plate glass and paint - $300.
Mrs. Audene Griffin, total loss - $1,000.
Daniel Bacon, total loss - $11,000.
S. J. Hayes, total loss - $4,500.
Chas. Lemmler, total loss - $2,500.
J. A. Karlen, damage to building by fire and water - $75.
Hamlin Bank and Trust Company, damage to plate glass - $500.
Grange National Bank, damage to plate glass and paint - $250.
I. E. Gabriel, damage to plate glass and paint - $150.
Fry Company, damage to stock and building - $5,000
    The above is as complete a list as it is possible to obtain at this time.

photo credit:  John G. Coleman Collection

photo credit:  John G. Coleman Collection

(In 1989 Bradford Era remembered the horrible night of January 20,1933)

'Night of terror' remembered
1933 Smethport fire leveled 13 buildings
by: Waldo Pettenati

SMETHPORT - It was windy and cold that Thursday evening, Jan. 20, 1933, when Larry O'Laughlin sounded the fire alarm.
It was the beginning of a nightmare that would last through the night and into the weekend in Smethport.

O'Laughlin had spotted a fire burning in a stairway between the meat market and Lemmler's Harness Shop.
Even though the Smethport Fire Department responded quickly, the flames spread so rapidly that it was necessary to call in nearby departments to control the blaze.
It wasn't long before embers and sparks engulfed the whole of lower Main Street and the night would go down as the date of Smethport's worst fire.

The inferno turned the sky red as far away as Bradford and embers and ashes were spread as far as the Quaker State Refinery in Farmers Valley, about six miles away.

It was a night of terror for this close knit community in the heart of McKean County as fire engines roared into town from Mount Jewett, Eldred, Coudersport, Bradford, Kane, Duke Center, Port Allegany, and Olean N.Y.

Before the blaze was brought under control, 13 buildings were leveled and many more received fire, smoke, and water damage.

Among the buildings destroyed were the Corner Drug Store, Agricultural Extension Office, Charles Lemmler's Harness Shop, Justice of the Peace R. C. Gleason's office, City Meat Market, Lindholm's Grocery, Gaskin's Barber Shop, C. W. Masser's Hardware Store, Imperial Hotel Building, Acker's Restaurant, Saulpaugh's New Agency, Larsen Restaurant, nd Infantino's Shoe Repair Shop.

Damaged were Karlen's Tailor Shop, the office fronts and the buildings of the McKean County Minor, the Grange and Hamlin Bank and Trust Co., I.E. Gabriels' Store, and the Spect Building.

The "night of terror," as it was referred to in newspaper accounts, saw a number of people fleeing their residences.  Local businesses along Main Street packed up their financial records and valuable papers and prepared for the removal of any necessary material to be carted away by waiting trucks and wagons.

Pet bears owned by Dr. W. A. Ostrander were removed to safety.  The bruins were badly frightened by the flames and screams of people rushing to flee the searing heat and sparks that engulfed the entire town.

The Wright House Hotel (later the Hull House) caught fire several times as did many of the buildings located on the lower end of the flaming inferno which threatened the life and property of the people of Smethport.

 Scores of firemen and Smethport residents suffered minor injuries, but no serious casualties occurred.

The flames were fanned by a gale which raged with 60-mile-an-hour gusts.  The fire spread with incredible rapidity, with devastating effect.  It was termed by local accounts as the "worst fire which ever occurred in that section of the country."

The terrifying roar of the flames jumped block after block toward the Imperial block to adjacent structures on the opposite side of Main Street and could be heard for great distances.

Columns of flames leaped skyward hundreds of feet, at ties forced and fanned downward by the hot winds which coaxed the flames to other buildings.  Firemen on roofs were in precarious positions throughout the battle.

Blazing embers covered the eastern part of Smethport.  Hundreds of inhabitants were prepared to flee their homes, some without thought of saving any worldly possessions, except for the clothes on their backs or the few things they could carry.

By 4 o'clock Friday morning firemen got a break when the winds subsided.  They had been directing 12 powerful streams of water on the flames for hours.  By 6 o'clock the fire was declared under control and by 9 o'clock, the out-of-town fire departments left for home.

Local firemen stood watch over the ruins, playing streams of water on the rubble the rest of Friday and through the weekend.  However, the mass of tangled debris smoldered late into Tuesday.

Click to learn more about the 1933 fire.

return to pre-fire