History repeats itself: Bowling alley fire is linked to four major blazes

Bruce Yarnall
For the Enterprise

The tragic fire of Chestnut Lanes last month is connected by location, use and time to four major conflagrations in Barnesville history.

The lot where the bowling alley sits was the site of a large cigar manufacturing facility, Roby Cigars, a century ago. The large two-story frame building was leveled by fire on Saturday morning, February 26, 1921. The Nov. 16 fire occurred just 13 weeks shy of the 100-year anniversary mark of the huge fire.

Historian Dr. D.O. Sheppard noted “the loss was great as there was an immense quantity of cigars and tobacco in the building.” The Barnesville Whetstone noted it was the town’s largest fire in a quarter of a century going back to the 1896 fire that claimed the first municipal building on N. Arch Street.

The loss was valued at $250,000 or $3.3 million in today’s dollars. Over two hundred men and women lost their livelihoods that weekend.

Unfortunately, for the community, just five days later, fire destroyed the mammoth, sprawling Kearns-Gorsuch bottle factory opposite the B & O Depot, throwing another 300 men out of work. The bottle factory building was valued at just under $4 million in today’s dollars.

In 1949, Barnesville Enterprise editor Ray Palmer noted the two fires eventually claimed a third business, the Harrison Department Store. The large three-story mercantile building at 102 East Main Street was under construction at the time of the fires. The loss of 500 jobs crippled the business which did not survive the Great Depression.

On January 3, 1945, the Palace Bowling Alley located on the second floor of the Green Castle Restaurant at 161 East Main was gutted, the fire consuming the entire roof structure leaving the building open to the elements. The bowling alley and a pool hall were gone while the restaurant and confectionary on the first floor suffered water damage. The temperature was near zero and nearby fire hydrants were frozen hampering firemen’s efforts.

The Nickles family, owners of both ventures, vowed to rebuild and reopen they did during this last year of World War II

This fire was days short of the 50th anniversary of Barnesville’s largest fire on January 12-13, 1895, another night of subzero temperatures. That fire claimed almost an entire business block from the Bradfield-First National Bank Building eastward to the alley. In addition to the physical losses, the fire claimed the offices of the Barnesville Enterprise. Lost was an archive of all newspapers dating back to the publication’s first issue, May 28, 1866, an incalculable loss to the community and future historians and genealogists.