Monday night Penn Yan suffered from a big fire. The Yates Lyceum Theatre, Penn Yan Democrat Printing office and plant, and E. A. Dean's photograph gallery were completely destroyed. The fire started under the hallway leading to the theatre, at a point not far from the stairway leading to the gallery and the living rooms of Frank Maring, bill poster and caretaker for the Lyceum. It was discovered about 8:20 o'clock, just as the overture preceding the first act of "The Hottest Coon in Dixie" was being played by the company's pianist.
Someone stepped inside the theatre and yelled "Fire! Fire!" Almost immediately someone in the audience called out "Keep your seats, there's no fire in here." The next instant, while a majority of the audience were standing, uncertain as to the best course to pursue, a command to leave by way of the fire escapes on the sides of the building set everybody in motion. Fortunately the audience on the first floor was small. If the theatre had been filled there is no doubt but that many would have been seriously hurt. The gallery and balcony each contained a fair sized crowd, and the gallery gods had to climb over the low partition separating them from the balcony, in order to get out. Most of the audience went down the fire escapes, a few passed under the stage and out the rear door, and the remainder hurried out through the long hall to Main street. By the time those walking the latter route got outside the double doors at the entrance of the theatre lobby a tiny flame could be seen coming through the floor of the hallway, very near the gallery stairs. Working in both directions under the floor the fire spread rapidly and soon crept into the theatre and the basement of the Democrat office. There had been some delay in getting effective streams of water in play, and the chemical engine failed to work, so that over a period of about fifteen minutes there was nothing to check the onward march of the devouring flames. The fire swept through the Lyceum like a huge wave and from every window tongues of fire were soon shooting forth. The location of the fire made it extremely difficult to get at, but when the firemen got a sufficient number of streams turned on it was realized by the large crowd assembled that they would have difficulty in preventing the fire from making a clean sweep to Main street. There was no wind which aided the firemen materially* and by pouring in water from all sides as well as from the tops* of adjoining buildings progress towards getting the fire under control became apparent after two hours of the hardest kind of work.
The Lown block and the John B. Cramer block on Main street were
* may not be the original word as it is partially unreadable on microfilm,.
saved, but the goods in Mr. Cramer's two stores were considerably damaged by smoke. The tenants in the offices in the front of those buildings moved out most of their goods. Thomas Carmody, Esq., got out most of his papers but did not disturb his law library. The operators in the Bell Telephone office were compelled to get out; John Watkins, insurance and real estate, moved out; other occupants of nearby offices "packed up" and got ready to vacate in a hurry. Fortunately no water was used in the blocks in front, so the only damage was caused by smoke. Mrs. Goldsmith"s millinery store, on the north side of the hall leading to the theatre, suffered severely from smoke and water, E. A. Dean"s photograph gallery, which was up one flight of stairs and extended back nearly to the opera house building, was a total loss, not a thing having been removed.
A fifty wire cable of the Penn Yan Telephone Company was destroyed back of the Opera House. A new section was put in Wednesday.
Corcoran Bros.' livery sustained a small loss.
The Odd Fellows, located over the Lown Dry Goods Company's store, moved out many of their furnishings, and there was a general feeling of uneasiness all along the west side of Main street.
The "Hottest Coon in Dixie" Company lost some of its paraphernalia.
EXCELLENT WORK OF THE FIREMEN.
Six powerful streams, with the high pressure here, emptied thousands of gallons of water into the mass of flame, and an additional boiler was fired up at the pumping station to add to the supply. The work of the firemen is deserving of great praise. Members of a volunteer department have nothing to gain and much to lose in fighting such a fire as soon developed Monday night. Climbing over the roofs of buildings, dodging electric wires, and dragging a heavy hose is not much of a picnic! Neither is getting wet to the skin and inhaling dense smoke. Often their clothing is badly damaged, if not ruined and there is ever present an element of danger, and many times their only reward is to be harshly criticized. That they sometimes err in their plan of combating fires is no doubt true, but the wonder is that these errors of judgment are not of more frequent occurrence.
THEATRE EMPLOYES DID WELL.
The ushers and others employed in the Lyceum deserve a good word for the manner in which they assisted the audience in getting out! There was no semblance of a panic. When they had finished this work some of the employes (sic) found they could not get their overcoats, access to the check room being cut off. Manager Herbert E. Bell was not in the theatre at the time of the fire, but was on lower Main street. When he arrived he was unable to get in on account of the smoke -- After trying to get through the front hall he retreated and went around to the north side of the building, where a stairway came up back of the ticket office. The fire was then attacking the gallery stairs, and the smoke was so dense he did not dare enter the hall.
The theatre building was owned by George B. Lown, who now lives in Chicago. The original cost of the building and its equipment was probably not far from $25,000, but it had never been a paying investment, and had been offered for sale at $8,000. There was an insurance of $6,500 on this property.
The building occupied by the Democrat Printing Co. was a part of what was once the Frank Smith dwelling - many of our readers can recall the old house, which stood back from the street; with a nice green lawn in front that was before the Opera House and the business blocks in front were built. Additions had been made to it. This was also owned by George B. Lown. The loss on this is placed at about $2,500; there is an insurance of about $2,000.
The plant of the Democrat Printing Co. was as complete as most offices. There is an insurance of $4,000 upon this divided among the following agencies: Goodspeed & Miller, $2,000; M. F. Hobart & Son, $1,000; N. S. Dailey, $500; George H. Simmons, $500.
E. A. Dean places his loss at $1,200. He carried $800 insurance.
Frank Maring's loss is placed at $500; Alice Northrup, $300.
Mrs. Frank Goldsmith's loss is estimated at $1,500; insurance $540.
The A. & P. Tea Company had a small loss. A large part of the stock was removed from the store.
Corcoran Bros.' livery had a small loss, and the tenants in many offices have small losses.
The Telephone Company estimates its loss on account of the cable destroyed at about $400.
The Lyceum was opened in 1830. It was quite a complete play house and will be missed.
The cause of the fire is not known. There was an accumulation of waste paper where it started. It is a fact known to but few people, that a fire was discovered in almost the same place some years ago. It was discovered about midnight, one Saturday, by night watchman William O'Brien, who was making his nightly tour of the alley back of the stores. It had only just been started and Mr. O'Brien trampled it out.
There is talk already of a new theatre in Penn Yan, to be located on Jacob street, on the "furnace lot." It is said an effort will be made to organize a stock company for that purpose.
When the Lyceum was built it was one of the finest theatres to be found in any village. Its opening was looked upon as quite an event in the history of Penn Yan. Prior to that time all public entertainments had been given in Bush's hall, which afterwards became Cornwall's Opera House. The new theatre was financed and owned by a stock company. Hon. Morris F. Sheppard was the moving spirit in the enterprise, and for the first few years the theatre was called the Sheppard Opera House.
The rapidity with which the fire spread through the Lyceum was astonishing. It transpires, however, that the walls were covered with two or more thicknesses of canvas, upon which the frescoing was done. This, in a measure, explains it.