Sometimes an element of good can come from a tragic event, particularly one that does not involve loss of life or limb.
Such was the case with the Mansfield of one hundred years ago, a place where the economy bustled with activity and investment.
In early 1919, one hundred years ago this spring, a fire broke out at a downtown establishment housed in the Hartman and Spreng Building at 26 North Main Street. At the time, the building was home to the Mansfield Dry Goods Company.
The March 1919 fire threatened the entire block and damaged two other connected stores, the Berno Dry Goods Store and the venerable H.L. Reed Company. An even wider tragedy was averted by the four fire units that arrived as sparks and burning embers landed on building roofs within a two block area. The dollar value of lost merchandise was reported at $300,000.
The Mansfield Dry Goods Company, which had opened in October 1914, vowed to rebuild – which is exactly what they did.
The decision was made almost immediately to construct something bigger, better, and taller. The architectural firm of Althouse & Jones was retained to design a four-story building to replace the former three-story structure. That firm was one of the most productive of the era, particularly for large commissions. Other buildings designed by Althouse & Jones included the two tallest buildings in town – the Farmers Bank and the Richland Trust Buildings – and also Park Avenue Baptist Church and the former Mansfield Senior High School. The general contractor chosen was John C. Kemble.
The style chosen was the “hot” one of that era, the so-called “Chicago” or “Chicago Commercial” design. That style echoed recently constructed and being-built buildings in the Windy City, where innovations in steel-framed construction had allowed for wider window openings and narrower masonry vertical elements.
As described by media of its day, the Mansfield Dry Goods Company Building’s “entire front will be of glass” and the façade featured white brick and terra cotta. In fact, the windows themselves, which appear to be original or replaced with sympathetic alternatives, are a version of “Chicago windows,” a three-part window with a large fixed center panel flanked by smaller double-hung sash windows.
Later postcards show that the store eventually included the storefront to the north. Later, the building was covered with a false front as a part of a Reed’s expansion; that front was recently removed to reveal the original exterior.
The original cornice of the building has been removed, likely at the time of the Reed’s remodel. The remainder of the façade fared well after being hidden for decades. Modern Mansfielders may recognize the Mansfield Dry Goods Building by the “PEACE” sign scrawled on its south wall (see photo).
Sources: Mansfield News Journal, Mansfield Shield, Wikipedia