Big Fire at Dayton in 1890

burning building


The City Hotel, Owned by James Timmons, Goes Up in Smoke

W. B. Soule, Vice President of the Brick Works, Narrowly Escapes Death – The Loss Estimated at $2,000 – Insurance, $1,000.

Shortly after 12 a. m. Friday morn the people of the little town of Dayton were aroused from their slumbers by the cry of fire, and in a few moments the demon presented itself in its greatest form. The city hotel, the largest building in the town, was the scene of the conflagration, and the flames had gained such headway before being notices that it was utterly impossible to subdue them in any way, and in a few moments the building was a mass of ruins. There is no fire department in the town, but the people turned out en masse, and with buckets and tin pans fought the flames as best they could while the furniture was being removed.

Their battle against the flames and smoke was for a few minutes only, and they were compelled to give up and stand by while the building, furniture and all sunk before their gaze. The fire was first noticed by the engineer at the mill, and it was his cries that awakened the inmates of the house. The fire originated in the kitchen, located in the east end of the house and only a few feet from the C., B. & Q. R. R. track. The origin of the fire is unknown, but it is generally supposed that it caught from the sparks of a passing engine. This is merely a supposition. There was no fire in either of the cook stoves in the kitchen, but it might be that the fire was the work of an incendiary, although Mr. Timmons, who was the landlord of the house, says that he does not think that he has an enemy in the town.

There were ten boarders at the house, and of this number all escaped without any injuries except W. B. Soule, the vice president of the Fox River Brick Company. He is a man about 75 years of age, and did not know of the fire until the flames entered the room that he occupied. When he awoke his room was filled with smoke, and had it not been for the assistance of two of the other boarders he would have been burned to death. As it was he narrowly escaped suffocation and is now lying in a very critical condition.

The house was a two story brick building and was well furnished. In the cellar were stowed away sufficient supplies to run the house for the winter. These, together with nearly all the furniture, were destroyed. In fact there was only very little saved, and the damage is estimated at $3,500. The building was insured for $1,000 by MacKinlay & Warner, of this city, leaving a loss of about $2,000.

The hotel was an old landmark in the town, and was a pleasant resort to the hundreds of fishermen, from this and other cities, who visited Dayton during the summer months. Mr. Timmons was interviewed by a representative of this paper, this morning, and as yet he is undetermined whether to re-build.1

  1. Ottawa [Illinois] Republican-Times, November 28, 1890, p. 2, col. 3


The Dayton Exchange

This house was once the hotel

CORRECTION: although this building is the same size and shape and on the same location as the Dayton Exchange, this building was built on the site after a fire in 1890 which destroyed the Exchange.

This building, now a private home, was originally the Dayton Exchange, a hotel. In 1870, the building was purchased by George Makinson and Joseph B. Jennings, who advertised that:

[the purchasers] have completely remodeled and refitted it in modern style, and now open it to the patronage of the public, offering all the comforts and conveniences of a first-class hotel. The rooms are comfortable and dry, and particular attention will be given toward providing the table with all the delicacies of the season. A good stable is in connection with this house, where horses will be well and properly cared for.1

A portion of the building was fitted out as a grocery store, for the convenience of the villagers, as well as the hotel guests. in 1880, James Timmons bought the Dayton Exchange and advertised that he had “re-modeled, re-painted and re-furnished from top to bottom, inside and outside”. The hotel catered particularly to fishing parties, frequent visitors in the summer. In 1902, Timmons sold the building and it ceased to be a hotel.

1. The [Ottawa, Illinois] Free Trader, July 16, 1870, p. 2, col. 6