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Destruction of the Palatial Residence of R. E. Goodell, Esq.

            Last evening, about half past six o’clock, the fearful cry of “fire!” was heard on the streets, which had the effect of starting our people from the warm firesides around which they were generally draw, as the cold without was so intense that humanity was not easily lured into the biting atmosphere.  Soon after the first faint cry the bells sounded a general alarm, and men, women and children rushed to the doors of business houses and dwellings, and from thence into the streets, as the intelligence was borne from one to another that the residence of our well-known fellow citizen, R. E. Goodell, was in flames.  Repairing to the spot, we soon had ocular demonstration that the repot was only too true.  Even then, which was some time before the arrival of the engines, the flames were bursting from the rear of the building and climbing up the staircase, greedily consuming everything of a combustible nature, and it was all too evident that the beautiful structure was doomed, and that the morning sun would look down upon a mass of charred debris, in lieu of the stately edifice, which was a marvel of architectural beauty, and a source of just pride to the humblest of our citizens, who rejoice in the elegance and taste displayed in the design and finish of many of the buildings which go to adorn our city, and give her the proud eminence she enjoys among her sisters.  The people of Springfield will not alone regret destruction of this beautiful building.  Hundreds of people in different portions of the state have partaken of the princely hospitality of ex-Governor Matteson and Mr. Goodell, and they will hear with unfeigned regret of its loss.

            The origin of the fire is not certainly known, but from what we can learn, it seems the family of Mr. Goodell has been absent for some time, and that last evening Mrs. Goodell returned, and was stopping at the house of a friend, until the house could be comfortably warmed for her reception.  Fire was started in the furnace, and all that is known is soon after a passer-by discovered a light blaze through the windows, and gave the alarm.  Hundreds of people flocked to the scene, and the fire department responded as soon as practicable, but their utmost efforts to stay the march of the fire fiend were ineffectual.  The supply of water, for some reason or other, was entirely inadequate, but had not this been the case we think they could have accomplished but little, as the fire had made so much headway, and the house was so filled with smoke as to be absolutely suffocating.  When at length it became evident to all that the building would not be saved, the doors and windows were forced, and an effort was made to save the furniture and such other articles of value as might be accessible.  Many willing souls were found to brave the cold, and even risk life in this direction, but they only met with indifferent success.  One or more costly mirrors, some books, chairs, etc., on the first floor were removed intact and moved to a place of safety.  The marble statue of Douglas, which graced the front hall, was removed, though in a somewhat damaged condition, one finger and the scroll which he held in his hand being broken off.  Much more, perhaps, might have been saved, had it not been for the fact that so long as there seemed the most remote chance of extinguishing the flames, there was an evident reluctance to bring to bear on the costly and beautiful doors the rude battering ram through whose agency alone they could be forced.  Soon after this was done the advancing flames and falling embers warned all from the interior of the building, and they joined the throngs in the yard and on the sidewalks, and stood helplessly watching the grand yet melancholy spectacle of the edifice succumbing to the action of the flames, which rapidly consumed the remaining furniture, the floors, the doors and window-casings, eventually gaining the tower, around the woodwork of which they hissed and crackled, ever and anon darting a lurid sheet high in the air, seeming enraged that there was not more combustible material on which to feed.  Innumerable sparks and embers filled the air, and were carried to a long distance, causing apprehensions in the minds of many of other conflagrations, but happily they were not realized, and the night wore on without further disaster, the gardener’s house, the costly green houses, and other out-buildings escaping unscathed.  The “fire ladies” kept watch during all the hours until 4 o’clock this morning, when, assured that their services were no longer required, they repaired to their homes to “thaw out,” no accident having befallen any of them, that we can hear of, except Mr. Chris. Decker, assistant engineer of the Button machine, who received quite a severe cut on the hand from a piece of falling slate from the roof.

            The building was erected by ex-Gov. Matteson, in the year 1856, but has since passed into the hands of his son-in-law, R. E. Goodell, Esq.  As before stated, it was a model of architectural beauty, the question of expense having apparently not been considered by the governor in his determination to fit up a princely home for himself and those who should succeed him.  The external appearance of the edifice was very fine, and the interior decorations were all executed in  the highest style of art, and were perhaps almost unequaled by those of any residence building in the state.  The furniture was correspondingly elegant throughout, and the wholesale destruction is regarded as little less than a public calamity.

            We have no means of ascertaining the exact cost of the premises, as reports in regard to the matter are conflicting, but it is probable that it will not vary much from $100,000.  The insurance was mostly, if not entirely in Cairo offices, and is said to amount to $42,000.
Illinois State Register - January 29, 1873

The Residence of Hon. R. E. Goodell in Ruins
Origins of the Fire - - Incidents, Insurance, Etc.

            The cry of fire is always a fearful sound at any season of the year, but it is peculiarly so when the thermometer is down to six degrees below zero, as was the case in this city yesterday evening.  This fact was fully realized last evening at about half past six o’clock, when the bells upon the engine houses sounded the alarm of fire.  The pulse of every man owning property in the city beat faster and faster until the location of the fire became known, and then each felt that they, at least for a time, were safe.  A short time after the alarm it was announced that the palatial residence of Hon. R. E. Goodell, better known as ex-Governor Matteson’s mansion, situated on Fourth Street nearly opposite the Governor’s mansion, was on fire.  The news blanched many a cheek, and a fearful foreboding pervaded the public mind.  Crowds of people, men, women and children, notwithstanding the intense cold were seen wending their way to the doomed mansion.  Many fears were expressed that the cold was so intense that the water would freeze in the hose, and thereby the engines become useless, but these fears were soon dissipated by the well known click of the “Little Button” as she commenced operations.  The


promptly answered the summons, and the “Little Button” took position at the corner of Fourth and Jackson Streets, and commenced operation.  The Silsby rotary engine, we are credibly informed, was delayed for nearly twenty or thirty minutes by balky horses that could not be induced to move, and did not, until a rope was attached to the engine, and by the help of some thirty or forty men the machine was taken to somewhere near Adams Street when the “obedient” (?) horses concluded to do the balance of the work, and the engine was then place at the corner of Cook and Fourth Streets, and when there, promptly commenced work.  After working for a short time, the hose burst, and a slight delay occurred while attaching a new hose.  The engines worked well, and the several members of the fire department are entitled to credit for their efforts.  The origin of the


is not known.  We can only state the matter as reported.  A well known gentleman of this city, while passing along Fourth Street, noticed a thick volume of smoke coming out of the tower on the east side of the building.  He immediately went to the basement of the house where the furnaces are situated, where he found two men, employed to tend the furnaces.  He informed them that the house was on fire, but they were incredulous, and thought he must be mistaken.  He soon convinced them of the fact, and the alarm was given as soon as possible.  At this time the flames were making fearful progress up the winding stairway leading to the top of the tower.  Another


is that the fire when first discovered was in the hall, near the principal stairway.  A lady in the Bettie Stuart Institute saw the fire, and with two or three young ladies, members of the school, started with several pails of water but on arriving at the house were informed by several persons who had arrived before them, that they were too late and could do no good.  The lady informed our reporter that she thought the fire could have been put out, at that time with buckets.  The house was


with an approved steam apparatus, the boiler being situated in the basement.  The floor of the apartment is of brick, and if the whole contents of the furnace was to be placed upon the floor it would in no wise endanger the building.  Our reporter interviewed parties who are intimately acquainted with the construction of the furnace and the plan of heating the building, and they cannot understand how the fire could have occurred, unless by the displacement of a brick in the very large chimney or flue, thereby bringing some portions of the wood work in contact with the fire.  This appears to be the correct theory, from the fact that the person in charge was perfectly acquainted with the furnace and its management.  On the first discovery of the fire, several excitable persons broke in the windows, thus admitting food for the flames; and it is believe by many that but for this, the result might have been somewhat different; this, however, is quite doubtful.  While the flames were ascending the staircase of the


like a fiery serpent, folding everything in its deadly embrace, the citizens were removing the furniture, pictures, mirrors and other valuables from the story above the basement, and by their efforts a large amount of valuable property of various kinds was saved, some, however, in damaged condition.  The yard, and several rooms of the Bettie Stuart Institute are filled with articles saved from the burning building.  Among the property saved, we learn that nearly all of the valuable books belonging to the library were secured in a place of safety.  The


was one of the most costly and elegant private residences in the country.  The original cost of erecting it with the outbuildings being not far from $95,000, and at a time when materials were fully thirty-three per cent less than at the present time.  The structure and out buildings were of brick, and no expense was spared in their erection.  The servants house, carriage house and green house, together with other out buildings were saved without damage.  The beautiful mansion, which only yesterday was filled with many rare and beautiful works of art, is now a ruin with only the bare walls standing.  This is a great loss as it was one of the most costly private residences in the city, and of which all were justly proud.  At the time of the fire the only person in the house was the man in charge of the furnace, etc., Mr. Goodell and family and ex-Governor Matteson and family being in Chicago.

            Mrs. Goodell arrived from Chicago last evening, and the first news that greeted her was, that her home was in flames.  The


upon the building is reported to be about $42,000, principally secured in the companies represented by Mr. Safford, of Cairo.  We learn there was an insurance of $7,000 in the Home, of Columbus, Ohio, and $10,000 in the Underwriters; the balance in companies not known.  The loss is estimated at about $50,000.

            During the fire, fortunately there was but little wind, yet the sparks from the burning building were carried the distance of several blocks in a southeast direction, but fortunately no other buildings took fire, although there was much danger at the commencement of the conflagration.  Had the wind been, as on the previous evening, several large and costly residences must have been destroyed.  The loss is great, but all may be thankful that the conflagration was extinguished without loss to the adjoining property.
Illinois State Journal – January 29, 1873

            THE FIRE – The destruction by fire of the palatial residence of Hon. R. E. Goodell, of this city, on Tuesday evening last, an account of which appeared in the JOURNAL, is felt to be almost a public calamity.  As heretofore stated, the structure was one of the most costly and beautiful in the State, having been built and furnished without regard to cost.  The furniture was the most elegant and expensive the market afforded, and in all the appointments it was not surpassed by any private residence in the country.  As heretofore stated a large portion of the library was saved; and we are pleased to learn that the statue of Douglas was saved, though we regret that it was somewhat damaged in the removal.

            Hundreds of the residents of this city and country visited the ruins yesterday.  As a matter of interest we would say that the walls of the building are standing, only a very few bricks having been displaced by the falling of the immense slate roof.  The piazzas on the east and north appear to be uninjured, and the walls look as though another roof might be placed upon them with but slight repairs.  There is nothing new in regard to the origin of the fire, but it may be set down like thousands of other cases to a defective flue.  This should be a warning to our citizens, and should lead them to examine the furnaces and flues in their respective residences and places of business.  Full three fourths of all fires in the country are caused by defective flues, and too great vigilance in this matter cannot be exercised.

            In relation to the insurance, we learn that in addition to the amounts already given, it is thought that there is $10,000 insurance in each of the following named companies:  Aetna, Phoenix and Hartford, of Hartford, Conn.

THE TERRIBLE COLD – The present winter is, thus far, one of the coldest ever experienced in this section of the country, so says “the oldest inhabitant”; and we think the old fellow is right in his opinion.  With the present rate of increase in the degrees of cold reported for the last few days, Minnesota will have to look sharp to her icy laurels or she will come off second best, and be obliged to give place to Illinois.  For several days past the cold weather has been extreme.  Mr. Thomas Knox has furnished us with the following statement of the degrees of cold yesterday morning, as indicated by the thermometer, in the following locations in this city:  At the State House at 7:50 a.m. the mercury marked 24 degrees below zero; at P. W. Harts’ drug store, south side of the square, 25 degrees below; at J. D. Roper’s on Mason Street, between 9th and 10th, at 6 o’clock, 20 degrees below, at 7 o’clock 21 degrees (below), and at 8 o’clock 19 degrees below zero; at the JOURNAL office at 8 o’clock a.m. 16 degrees below zero; at Joseph Merritt’s, 26 degrees below; at N. H. Ridgely’s, on 6th Street, 28 degrees below; at Mr. Fuller’s on 7th Street, near Cook, 27 degrees below at 8 o’clock.

Outside of the city, at the 5th Street Railway stables, south side, the mercury marked 31 degrees (below), and at Oak Ridge, 37 degrees below zero.

If any reliance is to be placed upon the various thermometers as to the degree of cold, yesterday will be classed as one of the coldest, if not the coldest day ever experienced in Central Illinois.
Illinois State Journal – January 30, 1873

            FIRE POLICE – The late fire, which destroyed the fine residence of Hon. R. E. Goodell, of this city, affords a lesson which should not go unheeded by our “city fathers,” in regard to the management of fires and the protection of property which may be rescued from the flames.  At the fire above referred to, it is notorious that irresponsible persons, at the commencement, broke in windows and did other acts without authority, every one, apparently, acting upon his own responsibility.  Under this condition of affairs many valuable articles of furniture were thrown outside and damaged, which with proper management might have been saved.  Many, if not all of the persons thus engaged are actuated by the best of motives, and labor with a zeal truly commendable, but they need direction of someone who has authority to direct in such cases.  The more valuable the property to be removed, the greater is the necessity for care and watchfulness, that articles saved from the conflagration, shall be found in the morning.  The engineers, firemen and hosemen, cannot be expected to attend to anything but their respective duties, and the result is that every man disposed to do anything, goes in on his muscle, and does what he thinks best.  There is another class which may always be found at fires, viz.: those who prey upon the misfortune of others, and who never take anything not within their reach.  Much might be said in relation to this last matter, but a simple hint may be sufficient.  In view of the above facts, we would suggest to our city authorities the importance of having an efficient body of men who shall, on all necessary occasions, act as a fire police, and whose duty it shall be to be present at all fires, for the purpose of removing and protecting property.  Such an organization might be formed, the members only receiving pay for the time they should be on duty.  We simply throw out this suggestion, with the hope that our City Council may take the matter under consideration, and take such action as wisdom shall direct.
Illinois State Journal – January 31, 1873


            The frequent occurrence of sickness and death among members of the General Assembly leads to the belief that the structure of the rooms is radically defective, and that the mischief comes from imperfect ventilation.

            To some extent this may be true.  That building never was a source of pride to the people of Springfield or the State.  In the first place, the State sold bonds and borrowed the money to build it – except fifty thousand dollars levied upon the citizens of the then village of Springfield.

            Then, quite as much as now, everything in the shape of a money job, was made in some way, to pay off political service.  The erection of the building was placed in the hands of three commissioners – one a very poor house carpenter, another a physician, and the third a clever old farmer, all of whom were utterly ignorant of the business entrusted to them.

            So, to round the circle of absurdity, a baker was made chief architect – a man who could raise good bread, but knew nothing of raising stone walls.  He got a very good plan from Philadelphia, and in order to make it original, altered it just enough to spoil it.  The building was squatted down in a mud-hole.  “Lake Lorshbaugh,” as the public square was called, has been improved by drainage, but there stands the structure, low down like a canvasback duck, inviting criticism without and dampness within.

            The new State House stands on high, natural ground, a beautiful knoll from whence is easy drainage, and to be so constructed that ceilings will be high, rooms large, and every part, including basement, open to complete ventilation.

            It would be well to have the work go on at a rate that will transfer the General Assembly from the old to the new building, at the next regular session.  Then we will see how far the present place of meeting is responsible for the sickness of which complaint is made.

            Some propose to hold back appropriations until more land is acquired.  The particular reason for that proposition will repay enquiry.

            Going back to the matter of health it may be suggested that it is not Springfield – not even the old State House, defective as it is, that can be charged with the trouble.  Most of the members of both Houses, in coming here, submit necessarily to such a digression from their usual habits of living, as to seriously affect health under the most favorable circumstances.  Take a farmer, mechanic or man in any active business at home.  He eats plain, wholesome food.  He is out in the free air during all kinds of weather, actively employed.  His hours of sleep are ample and his mind free from distractions.

            Now, dress him up in tight, fashionable clothing.  Change his diet to the high seasoned food of the hotels and boarding houses.  Shut him up at night in a small, ill-ventilated bedroom, and during the day in a hot, fetid and ill-ventilated hall, with an hundred and fifty others.  From bedroom and hall to the open air, the change is so rapid that few can escape the evil consequences.  Thirty years ago intemperance might have been set down among predisposing causes of sickness, but we are happy to say that it makes no part of that account now.  Sobriety, correctness of habits and deportment are the characteristics of our public men.  Therein is great gain.

            The same complaint that is made about the sickness among those who come here in attendance upon the sittings of our General Assembly, is made with equal justice against all State Capitals.  We have known Columbus the capital of Ohio, on the bank of the clear flowing Scioto, fifty feet above high water, perfectly drained, and with airy public and private buildings, more bitterly denounced than has even been the lot of Springfield.  The same of Detroit, Madison, Jefferson City, Nashville, Albany and Indianapolis.

            The evil will not disappear when we get into our new State House, though its mitigation may be looked for.  It may be set down for truth, that two hundred men cannot change their residence, habits of life and business, food, hours of labor and rest, and come together under many trying and disadvantageous circumstances, without a shock to health – no matter where they go.
Illinois State Journal – March 1, 1873

The Duty of the Authorities and the People

            On Saturday evening last, in company with Mayor Hay and Alderman Enos, we took a short ride through certain streets and alleys of the city on a tour of inspection, and the accumulated filth of every conceivable kind that was everywhere found, shows the necessity of an immediate and vigorous prosecution of the work of sanitary reform.  To begin with, the condition of Capitol square is simply a disgrace to our boasted civilization.  It is used as a common hay market and feed lot, and the result is, it is literally covered with straw, which, becoming damp and moldy, emits a noxious exhalation that must necessarily tend to the propagation of pestilential diseases.  Then again, the alleys, particularly those contiguous to the business portion of the city, are filled with all manner of garbage, and in many places ash and manure heaps are encountered of such magnitude that the passageway to vehicles is well nigh completely obstructed.  A rainfall, such as that of last night, serves to make these muck heaps, and the effect of the action of the warm sun which succeeds, all may readily imagine.  Hog wallows are not unfrequently met with, the result, often, of imperfect surface drainage, and the stench, which arises from them, is at times almost unendurable.  Old bones, and kitchen offal generally, are, by untidy and careless people, thrown into the streets and alleys, and there left to decay and putrefy, and the wind takes up the deadly miasmatic fumes and scatters them throughout the city, thus infecting the most cleanly districts, and paving the way for a season of disease and death, which thoughtful and observing people cannot contemplate without a shudder.  Medical men comprehend the situation fully, and here, as elsewhere, have sounded the note of warning.

            This being true, is not the duty of the authorities plain?  Cholera, having for some time been stalking abroad on its work of death in other portions of the country, may on any day show its hideous front among us, and render our fair city one vast charnel house. It is not our object to create any unnecessary alarm, but to arouse the people to a sense of their duty.  Decency, leaving the sanitary question entirely out of sight, should prompt us to proceed with the work of abating the filth-heaps, the cesspools and the improper drainage that notoriously abound on every hand.  A board of health, composed of the mayor and a number of leading physicians, has been organized, and we believe that every member of it is anxious to do his whole duty, but to enable them to make their work thorough and effective they require and should have the moral support of all of our people.  They will receive such support from the hands of all good citizens; those who withhold it are not good citizens, and every man of them who refuses to comply with the legal and reasonable requirements, of the board, should have the full penalties provided by municipal ordinance for such cases, inflicted upon him.  If these fail to accomplish the desired result, then offenders should be squeezed by cholera until brought to a realizing sense of their duty.  Let the sanitary police go to work now, and do their duty, without fear, favor or affection, and it will not be many days until the city is in a proper hygienic condition.
Illinois State Register – June 30, 1873