Jan. 16, 2020 — The city of Fargo suffered a devastating fire on this day in 1907. The fire broke out in the basement of the Bristol-Sweet Harness Company at 117 Broadway and caused over $100,000 in damages.

The harness company sold and produced leather harnesses, sweat pads and collars in their downtown factory and salesroom. Fortunately, the full amount of the damage was covered by the company’s insurance policy.

Christ Ross, a shipping clerk at the factory, was the first to notice the fire. He was alarmed to find smoke issuing from the basement of the building when he arrived to work at 8:00 that morning.

Ross ran into the workrooms and shouted to the just-arrived workmen, “Pick up your tools, boys — she’s afire!”

The fire quickly spread throughout the entire basement of the building, and begin working its way up into the higher floors. Several of the company’s employees were forced to jump from the building’s windows, but were lucky enough to have large snow banks beneath to soften their falling a bit.

E. R. Twitchell, foreman of the harness room, escaped the fire by climbing to the roof of the building and jumping onto the roof of a neighboring building. Twitchell reported that the fire had broken out in carloads of sweat pads that had been stored in the basement.

The pads, being made of animal hair, cotton and burlap, were quite flammable. It was believed that electric wires had ignited the pads since repairs were being made to the basement’s electric lights earlier that morning.

Next door, occupants of an adjoining apartment building were hastily awakened and evacuated from their rooms; most emerged into the freezing air of the streets in their pajamas and carrying only their most precious belongings.

Fargo’s fire department quickly arrived to the scene and were met with difficulties of their own; the freezing temperatures caused problems with their water hoses, and caused a layer of ice to form on the men’s faces.

After fighting the blaze for over four hours, the firemen were finally able to extinguish the fire. Smoke and water damage affected the neighboring Ideal Theater and Ames Furniture Store, but the most devastating effects of the fire were fortunately contained within the Bristol building.

Most of the losses were in the form of equipment and leather supplies housed in the factory, but the Bristol Company was able to temporarily relocate to Moorhead, Minnesota for three weeks and continue business as usual.

“Dakota Datebook” is a radio series from Prairie Public in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota and with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council. See all the Dakota Datebooks at prairiepublic.org, subscribe to the “Dakota Datebook” podcast, or buy the Dakota Datebook book at shopprairiepublic.org.

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