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Historic Clinton
Town History

The Great Fire

Shortly after the 1886 map was completed, disaster struck Clinton. On October 20, 1892, a devastating fire swept across Main Street. The results were crushing to a small town. The Clinton Democrat, a thriving newspaper (established 1868) said simply, "All is lost." 13 There was no fire department; the townspeople fought hard to save the houses and stores of Main Street, but the damage, when calculated, included 17 businesses destroyed and a total of 23 buildings, and 18 families were left homeless. The estimated loss was $125,000. (Houses were then valued at $1500 to $4400; businesses from $1200 to $7000). By the following October, Main Street had been rebuilt, but the fire had changed Clinton forever. As the merchants put up their buildings, they used brick or stucco. There are fewer private houses, the residents finding housing on other streets. The Clinton Fire Department was organized in April of 1892 and many of the forty charter members were the merchants who had suffered losses. 14 The opportunity to rebuild made it possible to raise the ground level of buildings above street level by a flight of steps to overcome a former problem with periodic flooding from the South Branch River.

The Great Fire of 1891 turned into an opportunity in the end to erect far larger buildings in totally new end-of-century styles. These buildings still serve the locals but also draw a wide variety of visitors, contributing to a new source of income for the town. As a streetscape, it offers an interesting combination of buildings, the fire survivors themselves reflecting the commercial enterprise from the small combination house with store front, the final building by the bridge, which still has a Greet Revival in antis entrance and 1860s buildings (including the first bank). The Stockton Hardware Store has a date stone, 1892. The Elks building is another example of unique design. The Duckworth Store at the bridge corner, as illustrated in the 1886 Birds-Eye Map, was a prominent building offering stylistic interest; its rebuilding/replacement (demolishing the c. 1809 stone store attached to it) took on decided turn-of-century features in fenestration and roof treatment.

Next...Turn of Century Growth: Commerce and Cultural Activities

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