looking back fires
The burned-out ruins of the Joshua Bond building are seen in this 1939 photo. The old Nashville House is at left and the Brown County Courthouse is in the background. | Brown County Archives

Since this is the time of year when folks are cutting wood for heat, cleaning their yards and burning leaves, we thought it would be fitting to share a few of the Nashville heartbreaks of dealing with fires of days gone by.

In the early 1900s, fire was a great hazard in Nashville. In those early years there was a forest fire that lit up the whole hillside west of Jackson Branch Road, straight north past the Heatherington (Homer Horton) log cabin. Many firefighters came and tried to put out the fire.

In the fire of 1909, a livery stable on the southeast corner of the square at the corner of Jefferson and West Main burned.

The Tilton furniture store, either in the Bonnie Fleetwood building (now the west end of the Nashville State Bank) or in the space which is now the Village Green building (the former Masonic Lodge), also burned. The fire spread to the north side of West Main Street near the old movie house. Mrs. Tilton climbed up on the steep roof of the Tilton house on the east side of Jefferson Street just north of the square and poured water, handed up to her in buckets, on the roof.

One night, the church bells were ringing a warning of a fire. The sky was alight and the Tilton barn appeared to be on fire, but it was the flour mill. From Salt Creek near the bridge ran a stream that turned the wheel of the mill. George Max McDonald owned the mill.

On East Main, the Bitters home west of the Village Motel and the old Ford Agency east of the Nashville House have disappeared in fires.

In 1943, the old Nashville House that was a hotel on the southeast corner of Main and Van Buren streets burned. In the morning, as it was burning, the students were allowed to leave school to watch. It was an emotional time.

There was a livery stable just south of the hotel, and it may have burned at the same time.

Jimmy Davis’ filling station on the southeast corner of Van Buren and Main next to the Nashville House did not completely burn. The walls with gaping windows still stood. One Christmas, the ruins were used for a beautiful manger scene with a lifelike Mary, Joseph and the Christ child, shepherds and a Christmas scene.

A tavern or saloon on North Van Buren Street was blown up sometime between 1900 and 1908. The story goes that a woman, whose husband spent too much time and money in the saloon, blew it up. The night it was destroyed, this woman asked another woman to be sure a certain shed door was unlocked so she could leave quickly. Another (and believed to be the true) story is that a local man appeared at a friend’s home miles away from Nashville and said that he had to leave the county in a hurry. Some of the townspeople were saying he blew up the saloon. The tavern-saloon was between the present Professional Building and the Tucker Building, across from the courthouse on the west side of Van Buren Street.

In the block just east of the Nashville House, across from the courthouse on East Main, was a brick building that at one time housed Charlie Genolin’s drug store and Laura David’s restaurant. Years ago, the Calvin Brothers’ Hardware Store was in that block. Later, Mr. Genolin moved his drugstore to the Taggart store on the southwest corner of Main and Van Buren (Miller’s drugstore, now the Hobnob). The Calvins moved their store to the Village Green building.

This is just a little peek at Nashville the way it used to be.

This story, in its original form, was written by Ruth Tilton. Submitted by Pauline Hoover, Brown County Historical Society.