The Big Fire of 1914
Over 100 years ago, the Town of Ross experienced a tragic fire. It was a disaster for many, but also a testament to the young community of Ross. As The Marin Journal reported on July 23, 1914, “One block was completely destroyed and a half a dozen lives endangered at 4:30 Wednesday morning when fire broke out in the Fred Croker store building at Ross station, spreading rapidly to the adjourning buildings.
Despite the efforts of the fire company and about three hundred citizens of that place the flames destroyed valuable property and stock, most of which was uninsured. Ross lost the Fred Croker Store, the Harry Meagor residence, the Vitari shoe shop, Meagor's garage, and Edgar Dale's livery stable.
The fire was discovered by Ed Joseph, a street sprinkler who saw the fire in the store building owned by Fred Croker. Running to the fire house, he awakened Engineer Joseph Green who sounded an alarm, calling out the fire members and the Town of Ross. When the Ross fire department arrived on the scene both Croker's store and the Harry Meagor residence were wrapped in flames, spreading to the shoe shop, Meagor's Garage and Dale's Livery stable. Chief Sam Murray and Engineer Green ordered five lines of hose thrown out, but more were called for. The Meagors had to pass through the flames in their night clothes. As they reached the street, sixty-five gallons of gasoline in the garage exploded, blowing the side of the building out.
Even more dramatic was the situation in the livery stable of Edgar Dale. Seventeen year old Lucy Dale was in bed in the rear, disabled and unable to help herself. Dale rushed back, wrapped her in blankets and carried her through the stable out into the streets. Twenty two year old Walter Dale was severely burned on the face and hands while rescuing twenty-two horses from the stable. He was taken to Dr. Hund's sanitarium on Laurel Grove for treatment, site of today’s Priory Tennis and Swim Club.
Two buildings were saved, the home belonging to Harry Field (still standing today at 29 Poplar Avenue) and the post office next door. Along with the valiant firefighters, the people of Ross did their part, with about three hundred residents helping to fight the flames, including Allen Kittle and E. G. Schmiedell, both original Town Trustees. Citizens served hot coffee and sandwiches after the fire, but more importantly, they saved lives while risking their own.
The web site Marin Fire History is an excellent resource for Marin Fire Departments, past and present:
Learn about the Ross Fire Station in the Town of Ross Buildings and the mysterious Mr. White.
The recent fires in Sonoma and Napa remind us that such disasters are a perennial concern here, too. Our terrain and climate demand vigilance and preparation.
In the early history of Ross, citizens were often called upon to protect their own lives and property.
Consider the 1909 San Francisco Chronicle headline, “Society Women in Autos Fight Fire”.
An odd title, but the story details the quick action of several Ross ladies, including Mesdames Armsby, Barber, Coffin, Griffith and Hale. More than bystanders, they brought what they could to help fight a house fire at Lagunitas Road and Glenwood until local fire departments arrived. The Chief praised the locals for helping avoid a larger disaster. In addition to fighting fire, the ladies followed their heroics by serving refreshments to the thankful firemen.
A 1914 fire destroyed several buildings in the Ross Common business district. Along with the valiant firefighters, the people of Ross did their part, with about three hundred residents helping to fight the flames. The brave volunteers included Allen Kittle and E. G. Schmiedell, both original Town Trustees. Once again, after the fire was subdued, citizens served hot coffee and sandwiches.
In 1929, a fire destroyed many homes in Mill Valley, just over the ridge from Ross. According to Roger Kent, he, his brothers, Upper Road resident Ben Dibblee and some Italian workers sprang into action. Working for hours, they set backfires to stop the inferno from further advance. They barely escaped burns themselves, but succeeded in keeping the fire at bay.
Of course, instead of heroics, we are warned to be careful and evacuate when notified. Let’s honor our local firefighters and first responders who are dedicated to protecting us and give them our thanks whenever possible.
SOCIETY WOMEN IN AUTOS FIGHT FIRE: Help Subdue the Flames Then Serve Luncheon to Firemen, San Francisco Chronicle; Jul 27, 1909, pg. 4; ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
Big Fire at Ross, The Marin Journal, July 23, 1914.
Mill Valley Historical Review, Spring 2004, an issue dedicated to fire fighting.
Roger Kent Oral History, “Building the Democratic Party in California, 1954-1966, Regional Oral History Office, UC Berkeley.