Argo Mill a Total Loss

Ann Arbor Milling
image from the Downtown Historical Street Exhibits Program online.

from the Ann Arbor Daily Argus, Tuesday, January 5, 1904

"The Fire Yesterday Could Not be Subdued"

LOSS NEARLY $50,000

Property Insured in Six Companies for $32,000 -- Origin of the Fire a Mystery

The Argo mill, which caught fire at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon, burned to the ground, causing a loss of nearly $50,000. Insurance to the amount of $32,000 is carried in six milling companies, but this amount includes the grist mill and 9,000-bushel elevator, valued at about $4,500, which were saved.

The fire broke out in the roller room and was discovered by head Miller Sherk and his assistant, H. F. Wolf, who had been in the room only a few moments before, when everything was all right. An alarm was turned in at once, but the flames spread with almost incomprehensible rapidity and by the time the fire department arrived the entire interior of the building was a raging furnace.

It was very evident that the building was doomed and the department devoted their energies to saving the grist mill and elevator and three cars of grain that stood on a siding.

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Of the two hydrants near the mill one proved out of working order and it was necessary to go two blocks to get the second line of hose in operation. The pressure was also greatly inadequate, but finally the waterworks department began pumping directly into the pipes and the pressure became considerably stronger. The refractory hydrant was at last thawed out and the finale saw five streams at work.

The heat was intense, and the firemen suffered greatly, despite cloths wrapped about their heads and a wooden barricade used by the men working on the east side. The fire luckily started in the north end, so by concentrating their work on the south side, the grist mill, which is but a short distance from the south end, was saved. The sheet iron roof and sides of the grist mill became very hot and fearing that the structure could not be saved, a gang of men were set to work sacking and carrying out the grain. In this way a few hundred of the 4,500 bushels in the mill were taken away.

The heat was so intense on the east side that a telephone pole along the road caught fire, and the 100-wire cable attached to it melted so that the lines were all put out of service. The telephone company have sent for a cable expert and the lines will be put in commission again at the earliest possible date, which will be in about two weeks.

The roof of the Ann Arbor Machine Co. across the street began to smoke, and men were sent up with buckets of water. Finally a line of hose was run up on the roof.

The mill was shut down for repairs a few days ago, and the only machinery running was the apparatus used in unloading grain from the cars on the side track. The fire gained headway so rapidly that no one could get in to turn off the power, so the rumble of the machinery could be heard until the building was practically burned out.

Two of the men were laid off Saturday night, and the force at work yesterday consisted of Miller Sherk, Assistant Miller Wolf, Chas. Rooney and A. Christman. Rooney and Christman were at work on the scales outside the building when the alarm was given by Sherk and Wolf, who were unloading a car of wheat. Manager Kyer was at the Ann Arbor Machine Co. across the street and a section hand who was working on a side track outside the building saw smoke coming from a window and ran into the Machine Co.'s office calling out: "Mr. Kyer, your mill's on fire." Kyer rushed across the street to the mill, and the manager of the machine Co. called up the fire department. The alarm had just been sent in, however, by Miller Sherk.

The Argo mill burned to the ground in 1839 and again in 1849. Moses Seabolt, of the fire committee, who worked with the firemen yesterday also witnessed the other two fires. "The first one happened at 9 o'clock one night when I was a boy," he said, "and the second on Sunday morning. I was a member of the fire department then, and also an employee of the mill."

No explosion was heard and the exact cause of the fire is problematical. Friction or spontaneous combustion are evidently responsible, as there was no fire anywhere in the mill, which uses water power.

The officials of the company are unable at this time to give exact figures as to the loss.

The mill is controlled by the Michigan Milling Co. and the officers are: President, Col. H. S. Dean; vice president, W. C. Stevens; secretary and treasurer, G. Frank Allmendinger; manager, Nelson J. Kyer.

The fire department, under the direction of Chief Sipley, worked heroically. They deserve great credit for saving the grist mill, which was apparently bound to share the fate of the larger building."