Fires in Payette, Idaho

By Ron Marlow

Payette's first school was a small, wooden structure, built on land owned by William Masters, at Main and 2nd Avenue South. Fred Hurd and Billy Case hauled the lumber purchased by W. A. Coughanour. Local citizens pitched in and built the building in 1886, hiring W. E. Reddington as head carpenter. In 1889 it was sold to the Baptist Church but the school district continued using it. In 1903 the building burned to the ground from an overheated stove.

In Central Park, a big, new brick building was built with high school students using the top floor and grade school students on the lower floor. It was built 1890-91. Several extensive remodeling jobs were done through the years. It burned in 1925 as party-goers watched from across the street at 9th and 1st Avenue South. Dee Pence relates, "Everyone turned out for the excitement, but nothing could be done." New schools were built at the Jacobsen property on Center Street.

On Seventh Street, the L. V. Patch building housed the Bain Auto Company, Case and Brandt's Auto Repair Show and Down’s Harness Shop. Next door was a small building of the Moss Estate and the Henshaw Livery Barn. A fire started in the livery barn September 30, 1915. All was destroyed and what was called the Central Block Fire. Coughanour's three-story brick building on the corner suffered minor damage.

Peter Pence built a two-story hotel in Weiser on the townsite south of the river. When the railroad laid their track on the north side, in 1884, the town moved across. Pence moved his hotel to Payette in one piece in the late 1880s. He located it on the north side of A. B. Moss’s store (Golden Rule, now Payette's Senior Center). It was Payette's first hotel. Later named the Oriental Hotel, it burned down. There was no loss of life, although all contents were destroyed. A bucket brigade was credited with saving the nearby Moss Mercantile Company.

Several saloons were built in Payette in the early days. The Wackerhagen’s Saloon on Seventh Street, caught fire. There were no fire engines, so the procedure was to ring the bell in the Methodist Church and alert the town. No one in the saloon knew where the church was so the fire burned on.

A fire, in 1914, nearly destroyed Payette's YMCA building. It started in the furnace room under the first floor. In the 1930s it was totally destroyed by fire.

The Whitney House, on Seventh Avenue North, was built in 1887 by W. Grant Whitney for his wife Mamie. With his brother they planted a nursery of 100 acres. Trees around town and the schools’ were donated by them. Mrs. Whitney never liked "living in the wilderness of the Payette Valley" so she divorced her husband and moved. In 1901 it was sold to William Ireton. In 1905 his son took over the property, but financial problems plagued him. The government took over the house for low income families. It fell into disrepair. In 1939 Jack and Margaret Miller bought the building and made an apartment complex. After 24 years it was sold to Pat Baley in 1978, who, after remodeling it, opened a restaurant in 1981. It closed after a few years. Bill and Gwen House purchased the house, planning to remodel and retire in Payette. One Easter Sunday, 1985, it burned to the ground.

The Bancroft Hotel was finished October 12, 1916 by H. E. Dunn at a cost of $50,000. It had 52 large furnished rooms, 25 rooms of which had private baths. Fruit grower Frank Arata, Fitch Realty and Insurance Company, the doctor M. F. Clark's offices, H. J. Davis Real Estate, a tobacco store and a beverage parlor (Joe's Club) occupied the hotel building space. It had a coffee shop that seated 50 people with a dining room, as well. In the basement was a large dance floor and banquet rooms.

Through the years there were numerous owners, among them Don French in about 1948, Jay and Barbara Fitch and then Eugene and Millicent Daines. One January 19, 1979, the hotel burned to the ground, claiming the lives of three people. It had been undergoing extensive remodeling.

The upper story of Payette's Middle School burned in 1956, destroying the third floor. It was never replaced. School was held in local churches for seven years until a bond could be passed to rebuild.

On December 25, 1957, downtown Payette had a fire that damaged Gem Electric Company, W. and B. Meat Market, Axelson’s Clothing Store and Meechan’s Sporting Goods Store.

Payette's Cold Storage building was gutted by fire April 20, 1976. It was built by Colonel Mueller in 1912 to supply ice to customers. In a cold winter, ice was cut in large blocks at Washoe, hauled to the cold storage facility and covered with available sawdust left over from sawmills. At one end of the building, poles were set in the ground. Fishermen brought in large sturgeon that were caught in the river. They were pulled up in the air by block and tackle, weighed and put on ice.

A water well was dug on the property and a pocket of natural gas erupted. Hopes were high that it could be capped and used, but it didn't happen.

One July 4, 1977 two fruit packing plants and two warehouses burned to the ground.

Payette's Main Street, between First and Second Avenue, had a fire August 9, 1977 and buildings burned.

The Payette Cider Company had a fire December 12, 1978. One July 2, 1986 it burned down.

The Peppermint Lounge, on Main Street, was destroyed by fire February 25, 1978.

The Payette Auction Company burned to the ground in March of 1987.

The Payette Creamery which had its formal opening April 11, 1899, had a devastating fire in July 1989.

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© Independent Enterprise, Payette Idaho
First Printed in The Independent-Enterprise Newspaper, Payette, Idaho, Wednesday, December 12, 2001

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