On Tuesday morning of last week, at about two o’clock, an alarm of fire was sounded and people hurried from their beds to find the Orchard Block, which extended from College Avenue to Railroad Street and was bounded by 5th Street and an alley running east and west, to be on fire.
The fire began in a woodshed belonging to the Orchard House just west of Dobson’s Shop. It is stated that a stove had been temporarily placed in the woodshed to keep warm some “gentlemen” that were being detained there till morning, and that the fire was in some manner communicated from that.
It spread with startling rapidity. In fact, it burned so quickly that there was no time to move the clothing of Mr. Benchart’s family. The property around Benckart’s home and business were covered with frame sheds and wooden houses, and those frames, being very old and dry, burned like paper. Mr. B. purchased the property from the Wilson sisters several years earlier for $5,000, and he was just finishing its payment. He had no insurance on the building.
The wind was blowing from the southwest, fanning the flames and driving them up to the Orchard Block and onto the buildings occupied by Benckart and the hotel. The fire was too large for a small department like Bloomington’s to fight successfully, so the firemen turned their attention to saving the buildings adjacent on the north. The whole mass of buildings, frame and brick, seemed to be on fire in less time than it takes to tell it.
Frank Dobson’s shop with tools and material was a total loss and with but $1,000 insurance.
H.S. Bates, city treasurer and shoe shop, had no insurance All the papers of his office were in a safe, and with a small amount of money, he came out all right.
On the Orchard House there was not one dollar of insurance.
The firemen were exhausted by their long and arduous fight but were cheered up by a noble band of ladies who brewed coffee for them. The men who handled the nozzle had no picnic on occasions like this and took risks while other stood about with their hands in their pockets and refused to carry light articles to places of safety no matter how much women may pleaded with them to do so.
People seemed to be paralyzed and did not act with the judgment that the occasion demanded, and so clothing, furniture, carpets, bedding, etc., were permitted to burn, and only a few dollars’ worth were saved. In a few moments almost everything that had been accumulated at the Orchard House through years of business and labor was swept away. It was a most complete and disheartening wreck. Mr. Orchard Sr., is 86 years of age, and he saved nothing—neither clothing nor bedding.
This is really the most disastrous fire that has ever occurred in the town for the reason that the destruction is almost total and the insurance comparatively nothing.
Source: Abstracted from the Republic (IN) Progress, November 14, 1888, p. 2.
Several of the events that helped put Bloomington and Monroe County on the map at an early day were related to efforts put forth by Samuel M. and John Orchard, brothers and natives of Bourbon County, Kentucky.
The two men came north to Indiana with their parents, Isaac and Margery (Mitchell) Orchard, about 1819 and the family settled in Washington County. In 1822 Samuel and John, newly married to Jane McPheeters, formed a partnership to go into the wool carding business. Isaac commissioned Samuel Pyle, a machine maker in Paris, Kentucky, to make up a full set of wool carding machines for the brothers.
Because the two young men had as yet no idea where to establish their new business, they started out in the fall of 1822 to view the country. They didn’t go far. Their first stop was Bloomington in Monroe County which they thought to be a “rich, new country” and the settlers, though few, were “social and friendly.” Satisfied that the area might work well for them, they purchased a lot with a log house on it. Nearly three decades later, that lot would be where the Orchard House was erected.
The next task of the brothers was to get the machinery from Paris, Kentucky to Bloomington. A five-horse team rigged with twelve horses started out in the Spring of 1823. After five weeks and a lengthy journey through mud and water, they arrived at their destination. Upon their arrival in Bloomington, the machinery was put to use as soon as possible and ran successfully until 1836.
In 1826 the need for a mill to take in flax seed became apparent. Nearly every farmer in Monroe County, whether large or small, grew flax in order to furnish their wives with the material to weave linen for the household. Because there was no place in Bloomington to mill the flax, wagon loads of the raw material were shipped to Louisville for milling. Seizing upon the opportunity, Samuel and John opened a flax seed mill to accommodate local farmers. It ran for seven or eight years and was sold along with the wool carding business in 1836.
Seeing how responsive the two brothers were to the needs of the community, they were solicited by their fellow citizens about 1828 to “open a house for the entertainment of travelers.” John was of a mind to do it and called upon Austin Seward, a fine mechanic, to paint him a sign for the Temperance Inn with a picture of the Goddess of Liberty. Once completed, it was attached to a post set into the ground where it stayed until time wore it away. The Inn, located on South College, was the first hostelry in the history of the county’s highways that did not have a bar or serve liquor to its guests.
About the same time the flax seed mill and wool carding businesses were in sold in 1836, the U. S. Post Office department offered a contract for mail service from Indianapolis to Leavenworth on the Ohio River. No one seemed eager to accept the contract because the compensation was small, the work hard and sometimes dangerous. However, after putting their heads together, Samuel and John decided there might be a way to combine the mail service with some type of public conveyance–as of yet, there was no such thing in Monroe County or even nearby. They were encouraged to make a commitment by a large number of Monroe County “subscribers” who promised to patronize the line when started.
Reluctantly they began buying horses and coaches. They went to Indianapolis and bought two six-passenger coaches especially built for service and durability. A trustee of Indiana College, realizing the benefit of transportation to and from the school, helped by furnishing teams to run from Paoli to Leavenworth. And from the time the brothers opened for business they were well patronized.
Four to six large, strong horses pulled each stagecoach. It was necessary to change them at intervals of about twelve miles when they became fatigued. Each stage made one round trip a week stopping at towns along the route to pick up and deliver mail. In the spring, the roads were often impassable because streams were swollen beyond their banks and mud was sometimes axle deep.
Samuel Orchard seemed to be the leader of this and every business enterprise operated by the brothers. In 1837 he began butchering livestock for the trade and continued in this enterprise successfully along with his many other projects for about 12 years.
In 1850 he also established the Orchard House on the property that eventually faced the Monon station. This was just before the building of the New Albany Railroad, and the brothers gave liberally in subscription for stock in the new railroad enterprise which was to mean so much for the city’s progress in later years. They even deeded land to the railroad for a small consideration. The railroad evidently appreciated the efforts made on their behalf because for many years the passenger trains routinely stopped in Bloomington long enough for passengers to take their meals at the Orchard House where tables were piled high with produce from Samuel’s 60-acre farm.
In 1850 and 1860, enumerators noted both John and Samuel Orchard on the same page as head of adjacent households. Both were noted as landlords and both owned an equal amount of real estate. The brothers, however, had dissolved their partnership in 1855 with the jointly owned property amicably divided between them.
Samuel retained ownership of the Orchard House. In 1860, there were six permanent residents living at the Orchard House along with four members of family.
By the 1870’s both men were getting up in years. John’s wife died in 1865 and was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery. John joined her there in the spring of 1872. Samuel then began operating the Orchard House and its subsidiaries with the help of his sons. However, 78-year-old Samuel was still functioning as the hotel keeper when he was visited by the census enumerator in 1880. Two of his sons, James and Isaac S., were members of the same household.
In early November 1888, the Orchard House was one of only a few hotels in Bloomington and certainly the largest. Before the month was out, it would exist no more. At 2 AM on Tuesday, November 6, an alarm of fire was sounded. People hurried from their beds to find the Orchard Block, which by then extended from College Avenue to Railroad Street from east to west and from 5th Street to an alley running north and south, to be on fire.
The wind blew hard, fanning the flames and rapidly spreading destruction. Many of the building were frame and in less time than it takes to tell it, the whole mass of building, frame and brick, seemed to be on fire. In just a few minutes, almost the entire contents of the Orchard House, accumulated through years of business and labor, were swept away. Samuel Orchard, then 86 years old, was able to save nothing—neither clothing nor bedding.
According to newspapers, it was the most disastrous fire that had ever occurred to date for the simple reason that the destruction was almost total and the insurance on the various businesses comparatively nothing. There was not one dollar of insurance on the Orchard House.
Samuel Orchard at his advanced age was done. Martha McPheeters, his wife of many years, was gone, having died in 1885. That entrepreneurial spirit that so characterized his youth no longer existed. So it was that one of the best known hotel men of the state, proprietor of the first regular hotel in Bloomington, one that bore his name, decided to spend what remaining years he had left comparatively idle.
When he died on December 3, 1891, at the home of his son and namesake, Sam Orchard, he was 89 years of age. According to his obituary he was respected and revered by all who knew him. He was a faithful member of the Walnut Street Presbyterian Church, and from that place his funeral was held. Afterward his remains were placed at the side of his beloved wife in Rose Hill Cemetery.
An article by Mrs. Wesley Hays published in an undated and unsourced column titled “Looking Back” from Fred Lockwood’s scrapbook. A very similar article to that of Hays was written by Forest M. “Pop” Hall and published in the November 29, 1921, issue of the Bloomington Evening World. Both Hays and Hall included much information from Samuel Orchard’s biosketch included in Blanchard’s early history of Monroe County.
Samuel Orchard’s obit, December 8, 1891, p. 1.
Various federal population census records for Monroe County, Indiana.