Allamakee County Home Fire, 1935
Two incurably insane women perished as fire of an unknown origin completely destroyed the Allamakee county home, four miles northeast of Waukon, early today. The women, Catharine Schroda, 50, and Jennie Johnson, 60, had been removed from the building by the steward, O.A. Dixon, and Mrs. Dixon, the matron. Childlike and confused, they wandered back into the building. The two were from Allamakee county, and had been in the home for many years. Allamakee county is in the northeast corner of Iowa and borders the Mississippi river. Thirteen other incurably insane women were in the main building, which also served as women's quarters. Sparks from this building ignited the adjacent men's quarters, which was also destroyed.
Flames originated in the basement of the main building, which was visited by Dixon at midnight. At 12:45 he and his wife were awakened to find the residential quarter filled with smoke. Mrs. Dixon endeavored to telephone the Waukon fire department but became choked by dense smoke, and sounded the alarm to the night watchman, James McComaty. The latter hurriedly aroused inmates in the men's quarters, in which were eight incurably insane.
All the feebleminded and insane patients were removed from the two buildings and housed in another building distant from the flaming structure. There were 48 all told in the home, including the 23 insane.
Mr. and Mrs. Dixon gave their whole efforts to rescuing the insane women, and carried them down the fire escape from the second floor while still in the nightclothes. Several of the women fought desperately, clinging to doorways, refusing to leave the building. After all were removed, the two women who perished evaded vigilance and wandered back into the home.
Flames at this time were still confined to the one (main)building. Great difficulty was experienced in getting an alarm to Waukkon. One male patient ran across fields to the farm of one Thomas Ford. Ford did not have a telephone, nor did any other in a radius of about two miles because of retaliation after telephone rates were increased. Ford then drove the four miles to Waukon and sounded the alsrm. Three quarters of an hour after the fire was discovered the Waukon rural fire truck left for the scene. By this time 1:30 a.m., the main building was almost wholly destroyed and flying embers had ignited the roof of the men's quarters, a two-story frame building 100 feet away. Water pressure, provided by an aerial tank at the farm, proved inadquate and the men's quarters were doomed.
The Decorah fire department made the run from the Winneshiek county seat to the farm in 25 minutes. The two departments saved livestock and other buildings. A brisk wind, accompanied by a temperature of 10 degrees below the freezing point, placed rescuers and firemen at a disadvantage.
The main building, a two-story brick veneer structure 40X35, was built in 1882. All the contents were lost, including the records and personal belongings of Steward Dixon and his wife. Estimated loss on the two buildings and contents is $20,000 fully covered by insurance.
Fifty-five years ago fire also wiped out the county home, on the same site.
While the origin of the fire was not definitely established today, belief was expressed that it was due to faulty wiring. Flames began spreading from the basements and went through the wooden hallways and staircases without impediment.
Insane and feeble-minded patients were brought to Waukon today, the women being placed in the city hall and men in the county jail until other arrangements could be made.
Spectators were unanimous in praising Mr. and Mrs. Dixon for their heroic work in rescuing the insane women at great personal danger. They forced the women from the building, returning into smoke filled halls again and again to remove them.
- source: Ironwood Daily Globe, Ironwood, Michigan, April 16, 1935
- transcribed by Sharyl Ferrall for Allamakee co. IAGenWeb
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