View of the Past

by Ron Leake, Ralls County Historical Society

This article is courtesy of Ron Leake, president of the Ralls County Historical Society.

This is the third part of a series of articles about the 90-year span of fires in Center.

“Perry Enterprise” December 27, 1923

Center, MO., December 21--- A very disastrous fire destroyed the poultry plant of the Ralls County Mercantile Company here last night, the complete loss to the building and stock being placed are near $75,000. The loss was usually heavy coming at the season when large stocks of poultry and other produce were on hand for the Christmas shipments.
The fire of unknown origin started in the second story of the building where hides, feathers, ect. and was noticed by townspeople about 10 o’clock after it has gained great headway. The building contained an ice plant, cold storage and a picking plant. About 3,500 live chickens, $1,000 worth of cream and $50,000 worth of dressed poultry such as geese, ducks, chickens, and turkeys for the Christmas trade were destroyed. About $1,000 worth of feed was also destroyed in the fire and two carloads of eggs and poultry were partially destroyed. Part of the dressed poultry in the cold storage department of the building was saved. The building was valued at $25,000 and insured to the amount of $22,000. there was no insurance on the stock.
Also, a refrigerator car of the Short Line R.R. was burned. A car loaded with chickens was saved by pushing it out of the way.
The plant was built about two years ago and the loss to Center will be great as it is steadily employed about twenty-five men and during picking season employed about 35 men. The extra force had been employed recently and the e poultry was ready to ship out for Christmas on Saturday. It is not known whether the plant will be rebuilt.

Perry Enterprise” June 3, 1937
Couch Funeral Home Destroyed By Fire; The two story brick and frame building occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Will H. Couch as a residence and the Couch Funeral Home located across the Main street directly opposite the old Peoples Bank building, was totality destroyed by fire of undetermined origin which occurred Monday forenoon.
An alarm was turned in shortly after 11 o’clock when the blaze was first noticed burning under the metal roof and fanned by a strong breeze from the southwest the flames soon spread across the upper story to all parts of the building. Besides the building a large amount of household goods contained on the upper story, funeral supplies and other equipment was destroyed.
Practically all of their household goods were saved from the downstairs rooms, but the entire contents of the upper rooms were a total loss. Mr. and Mrs. Howard Couch, who have been residing temporarily here from New London and ha their furniture stored in the upstairs rooms, lost everything they possessed including clothing and personal effects.
Mr. Couch carried insurance on his building which will be at least partially recompense them for the loss sustained, while Mr. and Mrs. Howard Couch had a small amount of insurance on their furniture under a storage policy.
Since the fire they have rented the Holt residence from W. V. Heckart and Mrs. Couch will occupy the Dyas B. Hulse store building with his stock of funeral supplies and equipment ---- Center Herald.

Enterprise, May 12, 1977, Pg. 1[sic]

Disastrous Fire in Center
Hayden’s IGA, Center’s only grocery store, was completely destroyed by fire early Thursday morning, May 5, 1977, after being struck by lightning during an electric storm.
Fire departments from Center, Perry, New London, and Hannibal fought the fire from just before midnight until about 4:30 a.m. They were able to save Jennings Sundries and the Senior Citizens building on either side of the store. Center has no fire hydrants or city water and most of the water for fighting the fire was provided by the Standard Oil Fertilizer Plant with about 10,000 gallon, and by damming up a large drainage ditch in the Missouri Highway Dept. property, west of Hayden’s store. At the suggestion of Raymond Lewellen, foreman of the Highway Maintenance [missing text] at Center, Riley Morawitz bulldozed the dam to hold [missing text]
[missing text] Dr. C. H. [missing text] Brooks [missing text] rushing waters crossing Highway 19. They saw lightning strike the business block south of their residence and he decided to drive down Public Street to see if all was well. Driving south he could not see any fire, but returning he saw the middle wall in the store all aflame. The Brooks gave the fire alarm. Because of the extreme heat and billowing black smoke, firemen were not able to enter the store but the fire fighters poured water on the fire all night from the front and rear of the store. The Center Fire Department stood by all day Thursday to extinguish flames that broke out.
Jennings Sundries had smoke damage and the Senior Citizens Center had smoke and water damage. It was approximately one and one-half hours before the roof fell in at Hayden’s, helping to contain the fire to the one building. According to Center Fire Chief Tom Bramblett, approximately 300,000 gallons of water were poured on the fire by 35-40 firemen from the four Fire Departments.
During the weekend a volunteer crew, headed by Riley Morawitz, started clearing the debris. Trucks were hauling it away on Monday and Tuesday. The crew was fed at the Cannon Dam Inn by Mrs. Black and her employees.
The grocery store had been in the family since 1923 when Mrs. Hayden moved to Center from Wellsville with her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Don Brothers, who managed the Ralls County Mercantile. After purchasing the store, it became known as the Brothers Grocery Store. After the death of Mr. Brothers in 1950, Mrs. Brothers and Mr. and Mrs. Clayborn Hayden continued to operate the store until 1958 when Clayborn and Marjorie purchased the store. They had done extensive remodeling twice and first became associated with IGA in 1958.
Mr. and Mrs. Hayden have not yet announced any future plans.