By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Back in the Day: After effects of the 1912 Becker fire
This photo of the fire of the William A. Becker store was taken on September 6, 1912. Notice all of the black smoke that was seen for miles around. The stone building that Becker temporarily moved his store into can be seen on the left. Other photos of the outside and inside of the newer building can be seen on pages 53 and 54 of the gray Pictorial History of Monroe.

J. F. Zimmerman, who was building a 30 by 60 bungalow in Oakley, was fortunate to escape loss from the Becker fire on September 6, 1912. He had five of his teams and one of Peter Wunschell’s in the barn until 2:00 that afternoon when he left with six loads of cement blocks. They were only a short way from Monroe when they looked back and saw the smoke.

It was reported the following Tuesday that, in addition the firemen who were previously listed with injuries, Josh Streiff ran a rusty nail half way through the ball of his left foot Monday evening while directing the work of putting out some burning hay on the site of the fire. Fire Chief Streiff’s wound pained him enough Monday night that he was forced to remain at home on Tuesday. 

In the same paper, it was reported that city council had extended the fire limits one more block from the square on Monday evening. The fire limits had previously only extended one block from the square. The Monroe Evening Times printed that the object was “to shut off W. A. Becker or Thomas Curran from erecting frame buildings on their lots which were swept by fire last Friday afternoon.” The council’s action consisted of passing an amendment to the revised ordinances of the city, extending the fire limits. The rules were suspended and the ordinance passed without a dissenting vote.

When Becker and Curran were asked if this change would make any difference in their plans for rebuilding, both men said that they had not made any definite arrangements to replace their burned structures. Both men declared that they intended to wait until the insurance adjusters had estimated their losses before making any definite plans. While Becker was doing a thrifty business in the stone building across the street, Curran was prepared to take care of teams during fair week at his old stand. He was to have temporary stalls, feed troughs, and mangers to tie horses to in order to accommodate the out-of-towners who had depended on him to care for their teams when in Monroe. He planned to have men on hand to feed and watch the teams, but there would be no shelter over the temporary stalls.

Health Officer W. B. Gnagi gave orders by the middle of the month for the removal of the debris from the fire. If work was not started by the 18th, the city would begin the work. “The odors filling the atmosphere in that locality are held to be a menace to public and longer unbearable.” Becker had been unwilling to clean the lot since he was awaiting the arrival of the insurance adjusters. He would also have been able to sell some of the merchandise that survived the fire if the adjusters had been here earlier. The adjusters for Curran had already done their work on Saturday (the 14th).

Insurance adjusters finally arrived on Wednesday (the 18th) to estimate Becker’s loss. They allowed almost the entire $7,000, with the exception of a few hundred dollars because of the value of what coal was left. At that time, Becker had started the work of cleaning up the fire ruins and planned to clear the grounds as soon as possible.

The same article said that Becker planned to put up a one-story brick building on the site where his store stood. The main building was to be about 26 by 50 feet with a store room addition to be 16 by 40 feet. Both buildings were to have a tar and gravel roof. There were to be two six-foot windows on the west side of the store and one of the same size on the north side.

The Times reported on October 30 that Becker had broken ground for a new store on the same site. However, his plans had changed to build a 25 by 50-foot, two-story brick building, which would be used for the grocery store. One row of feed and fuel sheds had already been built on the east side of his lots. Another set of sheds were to be constructed on the south side of the store. 

Final plans for the new building were made by early March with plans to start to build as soon as the weather would permit. The final plan was to include a feed mill and a model store that would be 24 feet by 60 feet, two stories of brick with a basement. The mill was to occupy the rear half of the building and was to be equipped with feed grinding machinery run by electricity. The contract for the mason work had already been let, but no name was given.

One year after the eve of the fire, the Times reminded residents of the disastrous fire and how fortunate they were. “Heroic work was done by the Monroe firemen to prevent the fire from spreading to surrounding buildings, thus avoiding a general conflagration. They were aided in their work by a perfectly still atmosphere.” They added that Becker and Curran had “rebuilt more substantially than ever and each one is doing a thriving business today.”

Many changes were made during the decades that the Becker store remained in this location. He added a new Bowser automobile filling station in the spring of 1915. A photo on page 53 of the Pictorial History of Monroe shows the new building with the gas pumps in front. William’s sons, Herbert and John, took over the business in 1917. Many of our current residents probably dropped by the store as they walked to or from the old high school or junior high. 

— Matt Figi is a Monroe resident and a local historian. His column will appear periodically on Saturdays in the Times. He can be reached at or at 608-325-6503.