Fire was an ever-present danger in barns where straw for bedding and hay for feeding horses were used. As a result, most barn and livery stable owners maintained a strict “no smoking” policy to protect their buildings and animals. Violation of that policy often had disastrous results.
At 1 a.m. March 4, 1910, a fire that had smoldered for some time in the brick livery stable and feed store occupied by W. J. Menefee at the southwest corner of West Second Street and South Moniteau Avenue erupted into rapidly spreading flames that aroused the neighbors. They spread the alarm to the fire department, quartered at the corner of West Second Street and South Kentucky Avenue.
Firemen rushed to the scene, but the fire had spread throughout the building by the time the alarm was sounded. A strong southwesterly wind fanned the flames. Firefighters first directed their four hoses at Menefee’s livery barn. They were unable to stop the spread of the flames, and the fire spread to the adjoining building, a frame building housing part of the livery stable and wagon yard.
The fire further spread to the west to the southeast corner of West Main Street and Vermont Avenue to the brick machine shop and the frame buildings housing T. K Barley’s implement manufacturing factory. The entire half block fronting West Main Street between Moniteau and Vermont was ablaze.
The fire skipped across the alley to an old wooden building behind Menefee’s wagon yard. From there, the fire spread to the east to a brick building owned by George Menefee and occupied by Will J. Crawford’s Soda Bottling Plant at the corner of the alley and Moniteau Avenue. The fire also spread to Menefee’s Grocery at the corner of Moniteau Avenue and Second Street. Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Menefees lived in an apartment above the grocery.
The fire destroyed the grocery so fast that Jim McAlester, who owned a livery barn across Moniteau Street from the grocery moved his horses to safety.
Engine Company No. 2 was called to assist in fighting the fire. They directed their attention to John Babcock’s lumber yard at the corner of West Second Street and Vermont Avenue. The fire had just reached Babcock’s building when firemen arrived, and they were able to extinguish the blaze and save his business.
The fire caused nearly $57,000 worth of damage. Will Menefee had $7,000 of insurance on his building, which covered about half its value. He had $7,000 insurance on the stock of his grocery store but no insurance on his household goods. He lost 14 horses valued at $2,500, as well as wagons, feed and grain.
Will Crawford’s loss on the bottling company’s stock and equipment was $12,000, with only $4,000 insurance. He hoped to reopen within a few months.
The frame building occupied by the livery stable was owned by Mrs. Hattie Adams and was valued at $5,000, most covered by insurance. T. K. Barley estimated his losses at around $9,000. He only carried $4,000 insurance.
The fire was one of the worst in Sedalia for some time. Power lines and telephone wires were burned, leaving a portion of the city without electricity and much of the city without telegraph and telephone service.
Rhonda Chalfant is the president of the Pettis County chapter of NAACP and the Pettis County Historical Society.