1906 Fire of Hemlock Michigan

This article recounts the fervor and anticipation surrounding the Fourth of July celebrations in 1906 in Hemlock, where the community eagerly prepared for a day of festivity, marked by parades and decorations. However, the excitement was abruptly overshadowed by a devastating fire in the early hours of July 4th, causing significant damage to the business section of the village and resulting in losses estimated at $15,000. The fire, which started under mysterious circumstances, highlighted the vulnerability of a town without adequate fire protection, relying instead on a volunteer bucket brigade and fortuitous assistance from passing train workers. The incident not only led to the destruction of key community landmarks but also underscored the need for better emergency preparedness.

A Hot Time

by Lorenz H. Loesel

Many of the readers will recall the excitement and sleepless night that preceded the Fourth of July in 1906. Children eagerly awaited the festivities that would accompany the Fourth. Members of the village band polished their instruments so that the marching band would add color and flare to the parade. Flags, bunting, and decorations were being unpacked. Everyone was ready to celebrate and observe the national holiday. Devoted fathers had to visit the saloon several times that evening so that their sublimated spirit would be in harmony with the coming festivities. Unfortunately, all of these preparations and jubilant spirit were soon to be forgotten, the following news article, taken from the Saginaw Courier Herald, gives us the answer:

“HEMLOCK VISITED BY $15000 FIRE — an early morning blaze which threatened to destroy business section, Hemlock, July 4. A costly blaze which for some time threatened to wipe out the entire business section of the village raged here early this morning. Fifteen thousand dollars is roughly estimated as the damage and a number of the prominent business houses have suffered total losses of their stock and the buildings gutted. The fire started in an unknown manner at two o’clock this morning and had secured good headway before being discovered. As Hemlock is wholly without fire protection, except for the volunteer bucket brigade, the flames spread without difficulty and had a strong wind been blowing, all of the business section would have been a mass of ruins.

The fire started in the northeast corner of the Kostoff and Goodmann’s general store, of unknown origin, and was first discovered by Miss Anna Ryan who lives in the upper floor of the adjoining block. Smoke aroused her from slumber and she promptly gave the alarm. Local citizens hurriedly dressed and organized an impromptu bucket brigade which proved a clumsy method of fighting the flames. But they received aid from an unexpected quarter when a Pere Marquette freight train passed through town and the force of the train hands came to the rescue… The paint on the post office and other buildings was blistered from the heat even after scores of buckets of water had been poured down the front.

The loss is distributed as follows: Building occupied by Kostoff and Goodmann’s general store owned by Mrs. F. B. Cole of Saginaw, value $4000, insurance $2000, total loss; stock ruined. Mrs. C. Hall’s millinery store building, owned by Mrs. F. B. Cole of Saginaw, total loss, stock saved. Furniture and private belongings on upper floor.

Residence of J. P. Minto totally destroyed and nearly all of the household goods lost.

Building occupied by F. A. Schulte and Company’s drug store, owned by J. B. Minto, totally destroyed; a stock valued at $5000; with $2600 insurance, all lost with the exception of possibly $200. No insurance on the building.

Vacant building adjoining drug store destroyed. Loss is unknown.

The Saginaw Courier Herald, Thursday: July 5, 1906.

Even though many of the destroyed buildings had been old and in need of paint and repair, we can see that this fire entailed a great loss to the owners. Furthermore, ruined buildings had to be removed and much labor was needed before new buildings could be erected on the cleared premises.

Some of the landmarks of this community perished with the fire. The original store of William McBratnie and the school from the early period were completely destroyed. Only a favorable wind direction and great amounts of water helped to save the corner building which had been formerly owned by Mr. Jacob King.


Loesel, Lorenz H. Richland : its sons and daughters : a review of the first century of Richland Township, Saginaw County, Michigan, Hemlock, Michigan : Hemlock Herald-Merrill Monitor, 1962.

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