Stephen F. Austin State University

Long-ago blaze brought progress, feud (July 2018)

Long-ago blaze brought progress, feud

By Van Craddock

On a cold January 1884 morn, Longview residents battled a major fire that burned several downtown businesses along what then was called Tyler Avenue.

The blaze exposed the need for better firefighting equipment not only in Longview, but in the nearby town of Marshall. Both communities upgraded their fire departments. That was the good news.

The bad news is that the Jan. 2 fire, possibly an act of arson, resulted in the eventual murder of a local physician who'd owned two of the burned-out businesses.

The Galveston Daily News of Jan. 3, 1884, reported the incident:

"LONGVIEW, Jan. 2 - About 2 o'clock this morning a fire broke out in the end of Killingsworth & Co.'s grocery, which with its contents was consumed, together with the drug store of Dr. J.N. Allison and contents. The rear of Butt & Tankersly's grocery caught [fire] and it was thought the entire block would burn. Had the wind continued to blow, the entire block would have been consumed, as there was little water nor any plan for its systematic application."

The Longview Democrat noted the fire alarm "was sounded by the ringing of the bell at the firemen's hall." However, "the night being very cold, our people were loath to leave comfortable beds and encounter the chilly air ... Many returned to their slumbers after satisfying themselves that no calamity was near at hand."

However, members of the Longview Volunteer Fire Department (organized in 1881) formed a bucket line and did the best they could against the fire, which eventually burned itself out.

Shortly after the fire was discovered, someone made a phone call to Marshall asking for help from the Harrison County town. Marshall firemen loaded a "small fire machine" on a train to Longview.

However, a second phone call was made, noting the fire was under control and there was no need to send the fire engine.

Frankly, the little Marshall fire engine didn't have a very good reputation. The Longview Democrat insisted it put out about as much water as a garden hose. And apparently Marshall officials agreed with the assessment.

On Jan. 10, 1884, only a week after the Longview fire, the Marshall City Council authorized the purchase of a fire truck for the fire department. Cost would be $700.

"Our old truck has long been condemned as worthless," said the Marshall Tri-Weekly Herald. "Marshall has indeed been fortunate in escaping a disastrous conflagration."

The city of Marshall also decided to reorganize its hook and ladder company, known as the Stonewalls.

"The Stonewalls have rendered valuable service in the past, and with their new truck, ladders, hooks, buckets, etc., we may expect effective work to the future when occasion demands," said the Tri-Weekly Herald.

In Longview, the city bought a horse-drawn hose cart and later spent several thousand dollars on a fancy steam pumper.

By November 1884, most of the burned Longview structures had been rebuilt and opened for business. But Dr. Allison owned two downtown buildings that remained burned-out shells.

Allison had come to East Texas from Virginia. In 1859 he'd built an impressive two-story brick home on what today is Longview's Dundee Road. (The house eventually came to be known as the Dundee Angus Ranch. A Texas Historical Marker was erected in 1964 for the home.)

Dr. Allison believed the January 1884 blaze to be arson, blaming a fellow named Tillery. Each man began carrying a pistol.

On Nov. 11, 1884, Tillery was riding his horse down Tyler Avenue when Allison rode up beside him and again accused Tillery of arson. A brief conversation ensued and the men pulled their weapons. Tillery was a tad quicker on the draw, firing two rounds that struck Allison.

The doctor slid from his horse and died on the dusty street.

Tillery fled Longview but eventually was arrested and sentenced to prison for murder.