Fire at the Moore Hotel

It was the early morning hours of October 22, 1966 when a devastating fire tore through the iconic Moore Hotel, leaving one person dead and the Indiana landmark in ruin. 

At the time of the fire, there were forty guests registered at the hotel, but fortunately not all were in the building at the time of the fire.  The blaze broke out around 2 a.m. in the vicinity of room 323 which was occupied by Ron Logan.  Thankfully Logan escaped but was hospitalized for treatment of shock. 

The Pennsylvania Railroad crew and a truck driver for Railway Express Agency, discovered the fire.  The trucker, quickly stepped into action by going into the offices of the Indiana Evening Gazette to turn in the alarm. 

Flames tore through the upper floors of the hotel and were out of control before the firemen were able to reach the scene.  Indiana firemen were assisted by Blairsville, Homer City, Clymer, and Plumville, and thankfully they were able to contain the fire to the brick encasement of the building. 

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Hotel key from the Moore Hotel

The only person that was not able to make it to safety was James Bollman, who was on the fourth floor.  Those on the upper floors were rescued via ladder trucks from the windows.  For those who are not familiar with the area, the Moore Hotel was located on Eighth and Philadelphia Streets, directly across Eighth Street from the Courthouse.  The building not only served as a hotel, but also housed seven business establishments on the Eighth Street side. 

Those businesses included; Valenti Shoe Repair, Swisher’s Sweeper Sales, Alvin Almes Realty, Ruth Knupp Beautry Salon, Lieb’s Appliances and Grundy’s Sports Shop, and a basement barbershop. 

William Bagley, the night deskman on duty the night of the fire and he was first informed the fire by Wilson Lydick, one of the guests.  Bagley went upstairs to check on the situation and upon seeing the fire immediately went back downstairs to phone emergency personnel but the police had already arrived.  Between the night deskman and the police, they went through the hotel warning guests to evacuate the building. 

The hotel was an iconic landmark in Indiana, dating back to the 19th century when it had containing 100 rooms.  It was first purchased around 1920 by Joseph Stern; and his son Morris operated the hotel for many years.  The hotel was at a prime location being across from the Pennsylvania Railroad passenger (located at the site of the present day courthouse). The site had been a hotel since around the end of the Civil War.  

Early records show that Solomon and Martin Earhart, brothers who were originally from Saltsburg, were in the livery stable business in West Indiana prior to 1865, which is the year Martin left that business and started a hotel in West Indiana. 

Apparently, Solomon started a hotel on the site of the Moore Hotel prior to 1876 because it was in that year that Martin purchased Solomon’s hotel, the Continental, and continued its operation. 

Martin had added a rear wing to the four story structure and then renamed it the American House, becoming a familiar landmark to the public traveling in the area. 

Martin passed away in 1913 and H.C. Moore acquired the hotel property, and subsequently renamed it the Moore Hotel. Mr. Moore added the brick shell to the building and a fifth floor. 

About 1920, Joseph Stern, the father of the owner at the time of the fire, acquired the property and completed the renovation and the fifth floor. 

As the years progressed, hotels were losing their original purpose and by the 1960s the hotel was being used for rooming house purposes rather than the typical hotel purpose.  Many of the guests at the hotel at the time of the fire, were actually permanent residents, many acquiring the living quarters in the Moore Hotel following the Indiana Hotel fire, which occurred on February 7, 1962. 

The Moore Hotel was the largest remaining hotel in Indiana, and had the structure not fallen victim to the tragic fire in 1966, it may have had a chance to regain some of its former elegance, especially when the new courthouse was built in the 1970s. 

Early Days of Agriculture

Agriculture has always been an important industry in Indiana County.  There were some improvements to the industry during the early 1800s, these improvements included the cast iron mold board plow, the horse-drawn drag rake, the horse-drawn cultivator with cast iron shovels, and the use of iron teeth on the A-frame harrows. Grain was still being cut with cradles and threshed by flails and hay was cut with scythes. In the rough areas, sleds were more common than wagons in both summer and winter.

To give an idea of how agriculture had grown, the 1820 Census listed 1,950 persons with agriculture as their occupation, this figure grew to 4,507 in the 1840 Census.

Early visitors to the area got the impression that most of the farms and farm houses were rather miserable looking.  Charles Dickens, traveling by canal, reported that some of the settlers had “Cabins with simple ovens outside, made of clay; and lodgings for the pigs, nearly as good as many of the human quarters; broken windows, patched with worn-out hats, old clothes, old boards, fragments of blankets and paper; and home-made dressers standing in the open air without the door, whereon was ranged the household store, not hard to count, of earthen jars and pots.”

In the early days of farming, stray animals were an issue, as time progressed straying continued but was gradually brought under control by the use of rail fences. The 1820 Census listed 5,995 “neat cattle” and 2,715 horses in Indiana County. Some matters, like the services of stallions and bulls, were advertised rather discretely. In 1835, Joseph Loughry of Blairsville, advertised that his stallion “Sir Thomas Hickory,” a thoroughbred, was available at $6 cash the single leap, $8 the season, or $12 for insuring a foal.

The farm animals got little feed during the warm months, they lived on the grass and other naturally growing plants. During the winter cows lived on ferns, and the hogs lived on acorns and hickory nuts. Wild animals caused a problem for farmers; in some areas the sheep were herded into the old blockhouses to protect them from the wolves at night. Bears were also a problem, not just for livestock, but for the crops; it was reported that they would destroy whole fields of corn. In another instances, many hogs were killed by bears in Cherryhill Township.

Not much is known of the crops during the early years of agriculture, but production was probably poor. A major known crop was wheat, the 1820 Census reported 16 grist mills that ground 48,000 bushels of grain. Some grain was converted into 18,000 gallons of whiskey by the 27 distilleries. By 1830 there were 22 grist mills and by 1840 there were 51 and three steam-powered flour mills, but there were only seven distilleries making 5,740 gallons of whiskey. The three flour mills produced 2,750 barrels of flour. There were two major forms of power for grist mills, the first was water power, and where that was not available then horse-powered mills were used. A large water-powered grist mill on Blacklick Creek about ten miles outside of Blairsville, was described as having a heavy overshot water wheel capable of grinding 100 barrels of flour per day.

As the 1800s progressed, so did new farming implements and machinery. A July 1840 advertisement stated that the manufacture of threshing machine had begun. The machine was simple and compact, and was suitable for either barn or field. Some early threshing machines were inclined treadmills on which a horse walked, which revolved a fly wheel attached to the cylinder of the thresher. Although it was simple, it could cause accidents, this was seen in 1845 when Samuel Doty of Blacklick Township had to have his arm amputated above the wrist due to a threshing machine mishap.

On August 11, 1841, Robert Fallon of Indiana advertised an “Improved Stump Machine,” which could “with the aid of one horse, a little labor and a small moity (sic) of the farmer’s time, will soon extract all the stumps on the plantation.” The cost of the machine would not be over $75.

Enoch Farmsworth of Indiana County designed a stump pulling machine that was later manufactured at the Indiana Foundry. He was also the original inventory of the sled lock, which was used to prevent a horse-drawn sled from sliding too fast down a snow-covered steep grade.

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Another early machine was the “Coleman’s Patent Grain Refiner,” patented by John Coleman on March 20, 1844. The claim by Coleman was that the machine would remove chaff, dust, cheat, cockle, pigeonweed, sticks, nails, stones and rat direct and would save farmers anywhere from 2 ½ to 5 bushels out of 100.

The early days of agriculture were difficult, but the invention of new machinery agriculture was becoming more simplified and more efficient.