The Great Fire at Klinkhart

On Tuesday July 11, 1911, a tragic fire destroyed the first floor of Klinkhart Hall and took the life of Louisa Klinkhart. Here’s the full story.

Cobleskill Times

March 1, 2021
THE GREAT FIRE AT KLINKHART

The fire that destroyed Klinkhart’s Hardware on Tuesday, July 11, 1911, was a tragic and harrowing event. The general outline of the story is well-known, and it has been told many times, with many variations. So, it is surprising that we have been unable to find a complete, contemporary account of the fire in any newspapers. Until now.

Klinkhart subscription label

Not only is the paper pictured here a nearly complete copy of the July 14, 1911 issue of Cobleskill Times that first reported the fire, but it is the subscription copy that belonged to none other than George Klinkhart. The orange tag on the masthead reads “Geo. Klinkhart 15 mar 11.” (Comparing this with other similar subscription tags, from this and other papers of the time, the date appears to be the date the subscription started or was last renewed.)

Remarkably, this copy of the paper has survived in an archive of Klinkhart memorabilia (more about that in a later Klinkhart History Notes). Apparently kept by the grieving family, this is the only physical copy of the paper we know about – so far. It is also the only copy of any type we have located. The entire 1911 volume of the Cobleskill Times is missing from the New York State Historic Newspapers digital collection. And it’s missing from the microfilm collections of the New York State Library. (The year 1911 is also missing for the Cobleskill Index, published at the same time.) We’re still looking, but so far nothing has turned up.

The failure of newspapers from this era to survive is not too surprising. After the advent of machine-made papers around 1850, newspapers were printed on inexpensive but low-quality stock that discolored rather quickly, soon became brittle and was eventually reduced to fragments if handled. But this copy, folded in quarters, perhaps since the day it was delivered, has survived nearly complete, missing only a few flakes along the now-broken horizontal fold. Fortunately, we found enough of the fragments to recover all but a few words of the Klinkhart fire article.

So, now here it is, over a century later, the complete story of the great fire at Klinkhart Hall and the tragic death of Louisa Klinkhart. We’ve transcribed the entire article.

THE COBLESKILL TIMES.

Vol. 35 No. 13
Friday, July 14, 1911

___________________

LOSES HER LIFE IN FIRE.

____

Mrs. George Klinkhart of
Sharon Springs

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A Victim Of An Explosion Caused by Fire in Their Store – Mr. Klinkhart Badly Burned – Store Wrecked – Lost About $15,000 and Only $3200 Insurance.

The general merchandise store of George Klinkhart of Sharon Springs was destroyed by fire Tuesday evening and Mrs. Klinkhart, wife of the proprietor, lost her life.

About 7 o’clock, Mr. Klinkhart, aged about 65 years, who has conducted a general store in Sharon Springs for the past 40 years and who is one of the best known businessman in this section of the county, started to draw some paint and varnish remover for Arthur Snyder. It was then getting dark in the store and he took a candle with him. In some manner the inflammable liquid was spilt on his right coat sleeve and on the right pants leg. The flame of the candle ignited the fluid and Mr. Klinkhart had some difficulty in extinguishing the fire to his clothing. The oil on the floor caught fire and he ran to the second story, which is known far and wide as the Klinkhart opera house, to secure a fire extinguisher. Mrs. Klinkhart had just come from her home to the store and when the fire started she ran out of doors. She ran back to the office which was located about 30 feet from the door to secure the books and valuable papers, and also the money from the cash register. She succeeded in her errand and had her arms filled with the books and other articles when a terrific explosion took place which blew the plate glass window out and hurled Charles and Jefferson Smith who were passing the store at the time across the street. Both men were badly cut by flying glass and missiles. Mr. Klinkhart was coming down the stairway from the opera house when the explosion occurred and escaped with his life, although he is severely injured and burned. Learning of the sad fate of his wife he remained about witnessing the firemen fighting the conflagration until 4 o’clock next morning when her lifeless and disfigured remains were recovered. Then he succumbed to the

[missing line at fold]

passed and was placed in [missing words] home two doors south of the store. The grief stricken family could hardly be consoled so deeply did they feel the anguish of the terrible calamity that had befallen them.

Two cans of gunpowder, a quantity of dynamite and other explosives were in the store. It is thought that the powder exploded and killed Mrs. Klinkhart. A pound can of baking powder was shot through her abdomen and the metal from a lantern was picked from the flesh of one of her legs. Besides the glass and other articles were embedded in her flesh. Her body was charred and was almost unrecognizable.

The firemen fought hard to extinguish the fire. They had but two nozzles and were able to throw but two streams. A telephone message was sent Cherry Valley for two extra nozzles and Isaac Cole brought them down in 17 minutes, a distance of 11 miles. By that time the fire was under control. Several autos from Cobleskill also went up there.

The building which was built of brick and the contents were entirely ruined in the basement and on the first floor. The joist on the first floor gave way in the middle. The building was about 70 feet deep. The basement and first floor were filled with all kinds of merchandise. Mr. Klinkhart carried hardware groceries, clothing, paint, oils, gasoline and in fact everything that could be procured in a country store. It was a common saying that if you could not secure an article anywhere else you could get it at Klinkhart’s. The value of his stock cannot be estimated as his storerooms were packed full. He carried an insurance of $2000 on the building and $1200 on the contents. His loss will no doubt be about $15,000, but his monetary loss is inconsequential in comparison to that of his helpmeet. Mrs. Klinkhart was a woman who was a great help to her husband in business. She was a fond and devoted mother and will be greatly missed by her husband and children.

During the fire explosion after explosion occurred some of which could be heard for more than a mile. The walls of the building are still standing and the opera house on the second floor above the basement, is but little damaged. There will be little or no salvage to the stock.

A representative of the Times was at the scene early next morning to secure information concerning the awful tragedy.

Mr. Klinkhart was unable to leave his home until Thursday when the funeral was held privately at the house and the remains interred in the Canajoharie Cemeter. Rev. E. R. Armstrong was the officiating clergyman.

Mrs. Klinkhart is survived by six daughters and two sons: Mrs. Joseph Esmay of Sharon Springs; Mrs. Wm. Bradley, Schenectady; Mrs. Andrew Fonda, Fort Plains; Misses Lulu, Eunice Carmeta Klinkhart aged about 12 years who lived at home; George and Edward Klinkhart, who assisted their father in the business.

Twenty five years ago Mr. Klinkhart suffered the loss of his stock and store by fire.

One of the peculiarities of the explosion which hurled the Smith boys across the street was that one of the men had his suspenders cut off his shoulders by flying glass.

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If you know of any additional copies of this issue of the paper – physical, film, or digital – or any other contemporary accounts of the Klinkhart fire, please let us know at info@klinkhart.org.

charred timbers Klinkhart besement

Believe it or not . . . there is still some evidence of the fire visible in the basement of Klinkhart Hall.

Needless to say, like that bottle of deadly poison arsenical soap in the Klinkhart attic, the charred timbers seen here won’t still be in the basement when we reopen. When will that be? Now scheduled for July 2022!!

You can help us get to that reopening day by making a tax-deductible donation of any amount. Click the button below to make a secure online donation; or you can send your donation by mail to Klinkhart Hall Arts Center, Inc., PO Box 101, Sharon Springs, NY 13459.