Collinsville has had its share of devastating natural disasters. In 1884, the depot, Hall-Mackey store and several smaller stores burned. Once again in 1900, the town burned leaving only three buildings standing in the down town area. This could have been the end of Collinsville but for the spirit and will of the men and women that would not be defeated. The town rebuilt and by 1908, approximately 15 or 16 houses of business were advertising in the Collinsville Courier. Several buildings built soon after the fire of 1900 are still in use today.
A History of Collinsville, by Mabel Brindley, quoted J.M. Cunningham’s listing of Main Street stores in 1884: Hall-Mackey Store, Collinsville Headlight, Mackey Sawmill and Gin, G.W. Justice, Nicholson Drug Store, and B.A. Nowlin Store. On South Valley Street her list includes: Scott Nicholson Store, Virgil Nicholson, Dr. H.P. McWhorter, C.C. Jordan, I.Q. Melton, Mrs. Malvina Hall, Oliver Hall, Marion Roberts, D.C. Williams Store, Mrs. Miller, Tip Nicholson, Wood Beaver, and Uncle Jim Kearly.
The second fire came on February 2, 1900. A small blaze was discovered about 1:00 P.M. on the roof of B.A. Nowlin’s store at the west end of Main Street. It was a wooden structure that stood on the lot now occupied since 1930 by W.V. Graves Inc. It was a bitter cold day and there was a strong wind blowing from the west.
News of the fire spread. School closed and children went home and told about it. (The school was on College Street about where the post office is now located) Storekeepers who had gone home to lunch hurried back. Housewives and older children left their homes and went to the scene of the holocaust, working to save merchandise and help fight the fire.
The fire traveled east, crisscrossing the street several times, leaping from building to building, all wooden structures except one, a brick building owned by G.W. Roberts. It was gutted and the contents destroyed. The depot burned, along with several box cars loaded with field peas for market. George Roberts’ warehouse filled with bales of cotton, cotton seed and shelled peas burned for a week. Oliver Hall’s warehouse of farming equipment and caskets went up in flames. A carload of new wagons, newly set up, were piled with merchandise from the burning store and moved by hand to places of safety.
Sparks leaped across the railroad tracks and ignited the Holmes Hotel. The fire fighters were busy downtown and didn’t notice it and it burned to the ground. Next door the barn caught fire and Mr. Brindley received an SOS from his family and came home. He got on top of the house and with Liege Appleton to hand up the buckets, he kept the shingled roof soaked with water and put out the sparks and flying fragments. When he came down the north side of the house was a solid sheet of ice. He saved his house and that broke the chain of fire and all other homes on East Main were saved except the home of postmaster Henry Collins at the foot of Lookout Mountain. It was ignited by flying fragments, as were houses on the mountain, and burning timber kept the nights bright with flames for more than a week.
Only two other buildings besides G.W. Roberts were left on Main Street: C.C. Jordan’s store located where the Handy Shop now stands and the store of H.R. Jordan & Son adjoining the C.C. Jordan store. A small stream rising at the railroad spring ran directly in front of these stores and emptied into Little Wills Creek. Men stood in this water with buckets, making a bucket brigade, thereby saving these two buildings.
Virgil Nicholson, the town’s first druggist, contracted pneumonia fighting the flames and died. Dr. H.P. McWhorter also had pneumonia but recovered. The Ft. Payne Journal, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 1900, listed the following losses:
- B.A. Nowlin, general merchandise
- W.A. Wilbanks, general merchandise
- John Collins, groceries
- I.Q. Melton building occupied by Morris Music
- James Lackey building occupied by R.H. Smith, general merchandise
- Nicholson & McWhorter building occupied by G.V. Nicholson, drug store and Dr. McWhorter, office
- Dr. H.P. McWhorter building occupied by R.L. Wright, jeweler
- A.M. McBroom building, occupied by Boston Killian, furniture
- Hightower building, unoccupied, recently vacated by Collinsville Clipper
- J.B. Pyron building, occupied by Phyron & Co.
- G.W. Roberts brick building, general merchandise and the post office.
- N.S. Collins Livery
- James Ford, shoes, harnesses, etc.
- J.E. Smith building, unoccupied
- A.B. Tidmore building, occupied by Hall’s Dry Goods and Furniture
- O.L. Hall building occupied by Oliver House
- Dr. J.T. Miller office and Wall Cain Groceries
- W.H. Elrod building, vacant downstairs, occupied upstairs by K. of P.
- G.W. Keener, general merchandise
- F.M. Oliver building occupied by Mrs. O’Neil, boarders and Charles Roberts Groceries
- Killian and Burt Livery
- G.W. Roberts Warehouse
- Boston Killian, livery and stable
- O.L. Hall, blacksmith shop
- O.L Hall Dry Goods
- Hall’s warehouse
- Henry Collins, residence
The Ft. Payne Journal stated that “the losses are so varied and so great that no correct statement can be given or is it attempted. We herewith present only those who were present at the time of the fire of more properly speaking, those who could be found by the Editor.”
The town rebuilt. Oliver Hall went to Ft. Payne and bought lumber from a basket factory that was on the market after the Ft. Payne boom had collapsed. The lumber was shipped to Collinsville by freight train and used in the erection a new store building which was painted blue. It was known afterward as the Blue Store, and the Halls sold quality merchandise from that location for a total of ninety years.
Stores listed in the October1905, issue of the Collinsville Courier were: Newman & Co., Keener and Bentley, groceries and shoes; W.C. Pyron, general merchandise; Will Roberts, fancy groceries; Nicholson Drug Co., Jones Bros. general merchandise; The Oliver Hall Co. By 1908 businesses on South Main Street were: The Oliver Hall Co., Miss Irene Smith, G.W. Keener, D.C. Williams, H.R. Jordan & Son and C.C. Jordan. On North Main: Newman & CO., P.A. Keener, Farmers Union Warehouse, R.R. Roberts, W.C. Pyron, Nicholson Drug Co., J.E. Gipson and Porter, White & Co.