Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More on the fires that burned Barbette

A few months ago, we shared some photos of the 1687 Barbette donated by alumnus Jack Flanagan, M.D., and a bit of its life story. Barely a working copy by booksellers' standards, it is beautiful to us for its long chain of provenance and its Oregon connection.

Charred and broken, the book had been through two fires in Coos Bay (formerly called Marshfield), according to the lore passed down to Flanagan when he was given it in the 1960s. Now, Flanagan's daughter has kindly sent us more information on the specifics of those conflagrations, courtesy of the Coos Historical and Maritime Museum.

The Marshfield Fire of 1919 broke out around 2:30 a.m. on February 18, 1919. By the time the fire department was able to get the flames under control, a half block of the city was destroyed. While Flanagan can no longer remember exactly which building Dr. Tower's office was in, it was above one of the damaged businesses--Grimes Building, Lloyd Hotel, Title Guarantee and Abstract Co., Pioneer Hardware, Jerry's Pool Hall, Blye Restaurant, and Stauff Grocery.

The city burned a second time, in the Marshfield Fire of 1922, which started on July 23, 1922, in J. Guildesheim's "junk store." Again, the offices of Dr. Tower were damaged, located as they were in one of the burned buildings: Bennett & Walter Building, Nasburg & Hirst store, O'Connell Building, Bennett Building, Deubner Building, Johnson Building, Thorn Building, Flanagan Estate Building, Flanagan & Bennett Bank, City Hall, and Odd Fellows Hall (do you get the sense that Bennett and Flanagan were the big businessmen in town?) A photograph taken after the 1922 fire is available as part of the historical timeline on the CHMM web site.

Two fires in four years caused the townsfolk to rethink their urban master plan; the downtown area was subsequently relocated to the west and new buildings were constructed of fire-resistant materials. Dr. Tower resettled in yet another of the downtown buildings; while we can only speculate as to what else from his office was damaged, it's possible that a metal examination table, steel instruments--as well as his trusty doctor's bag, which he likely had with him at all times--remained to form the basis of a new office. And the Barbette was still completely readable, should Tower have needed a refresher on treating the plague ("First, get out of the city...")

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