1933: Town of Sparta Gutted by Fire
January 6, 1921
“Mr. Brown Explains,” a heading to an open letter to the Editor printed in this week’s edition of the Watauga Democrat newspaper, began, “Mr. Editor: In reply to the report in the last issue of your paper our kind hearted nurse who has made a recent inspection of the county last August, and the writer who has demanded my expense bill for the month of December, I ask you to go to the merchant I have bought my supplies of, Mr. Mack Hopper [? – the name is unclear in print], and others, and find out my expenses for the past twelve months and if you think I am getting so much money be there when I demand my December check and I will give you a part of it, and besides this there is a grand jury that makes an inspection of this miss-named (sic) place twice a year and don’t find the inmates in such a suffering condition as the report is.” The “county home” was an institution for caring for orphans and other indigent persons, located near the current intersection of Highway 421 and the 105 Highway Bypass west of the Town of Boone. After this lengthy, indignant opening sentence, the correspondent, who signed his name “S.R. Brown, Keeper of County Home,” closed with a much more terse sentence: “So if you want my job[,] fill your bond[,] come over and get it on short notice.” The last printed issue of the paper, from December 23, 1920, had printed a report of county expenditures for the year first published in April of that year which included the budget line, “S R Brown keeping county home [$]108[.]00”. Upkeep of the county jail was, in that same notice, allotted eight dollars and five cents.
January 12, 1933
“TOWN OF SPARTA IS GUTTED BY FIRE,” a banner headline on the front page of this week’s edition of the Watauga Democrat newspaper, related to area citizens this week that, “[a] fire that began when an oil stove exploded in a lunch room Saturday afternoon destroyed the Alleghany (sic) County courthouse and practically the entire business district of this little mountain town before it was brought under control early in the evening.” According to the article, “County officials informally estimated the damage would approximate $200,000.” Details of how the tragedy unfolded told that, “originating in Ray’s cafe about 1:30 o’clock, the flames, fanned by a fierce wind, spread to Joines’ garage, then to Hardin’s general store, and to the office of the Alleghany Times. Volunteer firemen, with no water supply to aid them, fought frantically but were powerless to check to conflagration, which ate its way from one business to another until practically every building on the main street was in ruins.” The reported noted that, “Sparta has no waterworks system and firemen fought the flames under a big handicap. The little river water they scooped up in buckets and this was of little help and, desperate, they seized upon other methods to check the conflagration.” Among these desperate attempts, “[a] quantity of dynamite was ignited, but it only succeeded in blowing two or three small buildings to bits.” “Persons in Ray’s cafe when the oil stove exploded said the flame flared up when a match was applied to the burner. Water was thrown on the fire and this caused the stove to explode, igniting inflammable material in the lunch room.” No mention was made of any casualties resulting from the large blaze, and, said the newspaper, “[t]he loss is said to be covered by a comparatively small amount of insurance.”