Growing up like I did around the fire house and firemen, I have many memories — some funny and some sad. My dad’s oldest brother, Uncle Charlie, spent the last 10 years of his life as a driver at the fire station, dying in the 1918 flu epidemic, and his next oldest brother, Uncle Jim, was the oldest volunteer fireman in the state when he died in the 1950’s. Dad was also a volunteer and my next door cousin, Dewey Tyre, was head driver until he retired. His sons, Dewey and Jon, also were firemen. Jon retired from the Arlington department.
Whenever firemen got together in the old days, the topic of discussion was how they would handle fires at the courthouse, Bowden’s and the Kuteman-Hopkins buildings. With no aerial trucks, the three multi-storied buildings would be a real problem. As it turned out, three of the town’s biggest blazes included two of that number and all were within a little over a block of each other.
The first of the trio to go was the Haynes Opera House, at the corner of York and Dallas avenues, and the west side of the square. The sandstone structure was built in l880. The lower floor had businesses including Miss Ella Carrroll’s, Bon Ton Grocery and George Corcanges’ Candy Kitchen. A hard wind hampered firemen fighting the fire in the building that had been bad shape for some time. The Opera House had featured a variety of programs including Cole Younger, a former bandit who had completed his jail time, and William Jennings Bryan, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate. My dad, J. Roy, built sets and painted curtains for the Opera House. J.C. Penney built a store on the north end of the block in 1928, replacing the Opera House building. S. L. Warner was manager.
The second of the trio was the Kuteman-Hopkins building at the opposite end of the west side of the square block. H. W. Kuteman, former law partner of Gov. James Hogg, came to Weatherford to close out the affairs of the Franco-Texan Land Company, stayed and built the three-story building on the site of the Carson — the Lewis House in 1909. The lower floor had businesses and apartments, and the Elks Hall was upstairs. Kuteman put his bank on the Palo Pinto side corner. Former Ford dealer Clarence Hopkins purchased the building in 1930, and in 1931, Safeway opened a store. The Sturges-Allen dress shop, Corcanges Drug and Montgomery Ward Order offices were also were on the main floor. The blaze destroyed the building on June 3, 1951, the town’s largest loss, $123,151 at the time. Firemen from neighboring cities joined in the fight that lasted several hours.
Last but not least was the Bowden fire. The building that was just across the street north from the Penney store went up in flames in 1980. The south end of the York Avenue block had been the Lowe-Carter Hardware Store and Baker Poston before W. H. Bowden purchased it in 1930. The building was not being used and was vacant for several years before the fire. Corcanges Drug had occupied the former shoe department on the north end of the building. The fire attracted a large following and the Weatherford Fire Department was assisted by neighboring units.
Fires have come and gone over the years but these three had more than a few memories.