30 years later

Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Firemen from Cassville, Exeter and Seligman are pictured battling a blaze on the north side of the Cassville square on June 10, 1987. Cassville Democrat file photo

Cassville bustles 3 decades after major fire

Barry County firefighters had a long night on June 10, 1987.

At 9:30 p.m. that Wednesday, a fire was discovered on the north side of the square, continuing through the following morning totaling Tomblin’s Jewelry, Helen Emos’ Sewing Center and Taggart’s Medicine Shop. Other businesses on the north side, Jan’s Fashions, Town and Country and Johnston’s had smoke and water damage, but survived the flames.

The June 17, 1987 issue of the Cassville Democrat billed the blaze as the most disastrous since virtually the entire business district burned in 1893.

Cassville Fire Chief Millard Andrews and his two units led the charge against the fire, with help from Seligman, Butterfield, Exeter, Monett, Wheaton, Fairview, Washburn, Purdy and Eagle Rock-Mano-Golden districts, providing 18 units available for pumping or supplying a hose in the battle.

The alarm was first sounded from the Barry County jail, when two youths reported the fire to authorities.

Spectators on the scene were pressed into service, nearly emptying all the merchandise in Tomblin’s to be put in storage or held at a local bank.

Chloe Epperly, owner of Tomblin’s, said she had gone to bible study, then returned to the store for a moment before going home.

“It was about 9 p.m. when I got the call there was smoke coming from the upstairs part of the building,” she said. “There were a lot of people in town for the bible study, and they were able to help us get most of inventory and fixtures out to the courthouse lawn.”

Epperly said the blaze started in the northwest corner of the square at the pharmacy, then traveled upstairs and across the building.

“We did salvage the archway from the original building, but that fire took away some great history of the past,” she said. “Those were buildings that can’t be replaced. They don’t build them like that any more.”

Gerald Fletcher owned the Town and Country building at the time, and he said he and his wife, Mary Jo, spent half the night on the square with firefighters, as they had to give their permission to use Town and Country’s roof as an upper hand for fighting the blaze.

“They must have had a lot of equipment up there because the roof broke through, and as a result, we had to do a lot of repairs,” he said. “But, I can’t say enough about those firefighters. We were there until about 1 or 3 a.m., and I think about three of them stayed there all night to make sure the fire didn’t break out again. Any damage that need to be taken care of, they did it.”

Fletcher, who also had a beauty shop in the area, said the blaze turned out to be a blessing as time went on.

“Our business really grew because of all the publicity,” he said. “It definitely helped as far as I was concerned. It brought more people in, and many of them continued to come back. Cassville has always been good that way and with keeping our buildings up.”

Epperly said while the fire did cause some inconveniences, it did not slow the progress of business downtown.

“We are still there, so that’s a plus,” she said. “Businesses reopened after relocating for a bit until the buildings were rebuilt. Other than that, I don’t know that it had any effect other than convenience.”

Epperly said she still thanks all the firefighters who came to the scene, and those who helped move inventory from the store.

“I give tremendous thanks to all the local fire departments,” she said. “They did great to contain the fire to only the two buildings. We also got a lot of community support, and that makes thins a lot easier.”

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