April 29, 1878 – A destructive fire burned the Big River House Hotel to the ground. This hotel was located on the north side of Main Street, east of Woodward Street. The flames spread quickly to an adjoining building which housed W. T. Wilson’s restaurant and saloon. That building was also destroyed. These structures weren’t rebuilt.

Large Hotel Building. A group of men are posing in the front.

Big River House Hotel, c. 1877. A group of men are posing in the front.

The Beacon reported that the fire was discovered between 3 am and 4 am. “The usual quiet of our town was disturbed by the cry of fire in the Big River House. Before many were at the scene the flames had reached too much headway to be extinguished. All the lodgers were in bed when the alarm was given, who had barely time to escape through the doors, some of them being compelled to jump from the second and third story windows, while others who retained their presence of mind lowered themselves to the ground with the bed sheets. Several who threw themselves out of the windows sustained severe bruises.” Fortunately, everyone survived.

The guests of the hotel lost all of their belongings in the fire. Joseph Lazarus, who had purchased the hotel the previous November, reported a loss of nearly $7,000 for the building and its contents, but only $1,400 of his loss was insured thru the Western Assurance Company. The origin of the fire remained a mystery. Some people thought that the hotel caught fire on the second floor over the kitchen, while others believed it started downstairs in the back of the building.

The Big River House Hotel was originally built in 1871 by William Norton who put it up for sale in 1874. That same year he opened the Norton House Hotel on the south side of Main Street, east of the intersection with Lansing Street. The Norton House Hotel was also destroyed by fire in November 1879. Norton rebuilt that hotel, which was renamed the Occidental Hotel by new owners in 1887. In 1941, the Occidental Hotel burned to the ground and was never rebuilt.

Join us for a special tribute to the beloved actress, Angela Lansbury on Friday, May 5, 5pm-8pm. The evening begins with a hosted reception at the Blair House Inn, followed by a screening of clips from Angela Lansbury’s career at the Matheson Theater. $60 Members, $70 for General Public.