Fire at Essex Place, 1901

by Mike Roberts, Church Historian

Last month’s article [September 2012] dealt with the construction of the new home of First Universalist Church at Essex Place. Less than five years after the church opened, new challenges came to the congregation as reported in this article from the February 10, 1901 Cincinnati Enquirer.

“The First Universalist Church on Essex Place, Walnut Hills, was damaged by fire yesterday afternoon to the extent of $10,000 or $12,000, and the members of the congregation indignantly claim that if the person who discovered the fire had been allowed the use of a telephone in a private residence nearby, the Fire Department could have been called and the blaze quenched in its incipiency.

About 3 o’clock, W. E. Sellkop, an organ tuner, opened the door of the edifice for the purpose of making some repairs on the organ and was almost blinded by smoke. He rushed to Dr. Gratigny’s residence, next door, and was informed that he could find a telephone at Nathan Cohen’s home, the next residence.

Sellkop rang Cohen’s bell and informed the woman that responded that the church was on fire, but he was told that the phone was a private one and that she could not allow him to use it.

He then ran up Essex Place and west on McMillan Street and, seeing Officer Farrell two blocks away signaled to him. The nearest fire box was at May and Crown streets, which involved another run, and it was fully 20 minutes after Sellkop discovered the fire before the department was on the scene.

After two hours’ hard work the flames were quenched. The meeting and Sunday school rooms in the basement are burned out and the interior of the church is a wreck.

The Board of Directors, George L. Utter, A.P. Henkel, and George C. James, are of the opinion that an insurance of $10,000 carried in the Phoenix of Hartford and the Aetna companies will not cover the loss. The fire originated from an overheated furnace. Rev. George A. Thayer of the First Unitarian Church of Avondale, tendered the use of his church for service to Rev. Harry Blackford, the pastor of the Universalist Church.

A notice was received from the church trustees last evening [stating] that no services will be held today and thanking Rev.Thayer for his kindly offer, which they had decided not to accept.”

Image: Essex Place church building.