The first of that era was the fire at Broad Street and West Fourth Avenue with a law office at the time housed in an old building that would not have been there at all except for city financial problems after “the late unpleasantness.”
Have you ever noticed how wide East Fourth Avenue is? The west side was that wide as well until Rome sold part of it for needed dollars — U.S., not Confederate.
Incidentally, the same law firm had their building at 324 Broad St. burn down in what hopefully will be the last major fire to consume a building on historic Broad.
Lee’s Bowling lanes located on East Fourth Avenue where the county administration building parking deck now sits was a whopper of a fire. For many years I kept a bowling ball that had been burned and partially melted from that one.
The fire at Kessler’s, a clothing store that specialized in everyday and work clothes, was also a monster of a blaze. I was old enough by then to stay late in the night as firefighters contained the flames to that store, probably a major feat at that time. Remarkably all these fires were pretty much contained to the initial building in which they started. With modern fire-fighting equipment and methods developed over the years we should all feel secure in today’s firefighters doing an even better job.
The other big fire was at the corner of West First Street and Broad, then holding Keith Walgreens drug store. I will not go into it today but there is an interesting and somewhat funny story behind this fire.
What we have now at the corner of West Fourth and Broad, where the first of the mentioned law-firm fires occurred, is a building with no historic value that looks very much out of place on the Broad Street canvas. The city should reclaim the property it sold some 140-plus years ago and open up that area, which is now in front of, and blocking the view toward, the rear entrance to The Forum.
There is probably no compelling reason to make the street wider. I would suggest a park area where there would be benches and grass and the also being a perfect place for having one of those “second-place trophies” that were moved to Myrtle Hill from their original location at Broad Street and East Second Avenue back to city center.
The perfect candidate in all seriousness would be the Women of the Confederacy statue now sitting at South Broad Street and Myrtle Street.
Most all small Southern towns that experienced the horrors of the Civil War have a monument to the brave and caring people touched by that conflict in the middle of town. We need one too. It reminds us of the tragedy and great sacrifice of both sides.
This would be a natural focal point for people walking around town.
The second fire involving the same law firm, in what is now not a historic structures and vacant for 25 years, brings another interesting possibility. A mid-block park with access to the parking behind.
If you really get creative the area to the rear could be the location of the next parking deck for downtown with a straight shot through the new park across the mid-block crosswalk and Opera Alley right to The Forum.
The great thing about such a deck is that it could be low profile because of the topography and have its entrance/exit from Fourth Avenue as well as from behind the Masonic Lodge. There could also be direct access into the county office building (the old post office/federal courthouse).
Lee’s Lanes is already a parking deck for the county; Kessler’s is occupied by Honeymoon Bakery; the Keith Walgreens spot is now El Zarape, one of the oldest restaurants downtown.
I see a more beautiful, functional, small Southern town with lots of history already.