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Grand Central Hotel Fire

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On this date in 1905, fire destroyed the Grand Central Hotel in Valley City. It was believed to have started in the heating system, though the owner of the hotel, Pat McNulty, couldn’t determine the source as smoke began to fill the building. For several hours the smoke continued to build, then finally the place erupted into flames around 2pm. The newspaper said the blaze “proved a very hard proposition for the [fire] department to handle,” as the smoke was just too dense. It also affected a connected novelty store. At one point the firemen thought they had the fire under control, but it broke out again, stopping only after destroying seventy-five feet of property along Main Street, causing thousands of dollars of damage.

The building had been sheeted with iron, which was supposed to aid in preventing fire, but the hotel was a total loss, with little furniture saved. Landlord McNulty’s family lived in part of this property. They lost jewelry, clothing, and “practically … a lifetime’s savings.” The hotel staff and guests also lost possessions.

The novelty store lost the large inventory on hand for the Christmas season. The owner estimated his losses to be $5500, but he had only $3500 in insurance. However, “with his customary hustle,” according to the papers, he had already opened up a temporary shop in the basement of the First National Bank.

A billiard and pool room operated by George Fishback was also affected by the fire. And in C. J. Lee’s building, the Valley City Drug company moved out a portion of their stock due to damage by fire and water.

Interestingly, later reports from newspapers highlighted the arrest of two men, Mike Halpin and Ben Berden, who had stolen “a quantity of plunder” at the time of the fire. Halpin had actually reported the stolen items as missing when Berden made off with the lot of it! Berden was found at the Northern Pacific Depot in Fargo, and the investigation soon led to a men’s room above a saloon in Moorhead, where a search uncovered knives, guns, forks, and spoons. An unnamed citizen also identified additional items stolen from his trunk that had been through the fire -- a small bit of smoky plunder that survived the blaze.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


Valley City Times-Record, December 14, 2905, p2

Bismarck Daily Tribune, Dec 9, 1905, p1

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, December 14, 1905, p4

The Fargo Forum and Daily Republican, Dec 12, 1905, p4

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