The Rockvale Fire and Mines

When Coal was King

In 1902, when Rockvale was a thriving mining camp, Mr. and Mrs. Owen Doran started a hotel. The old “Rockvale Hotel” soon became known far and wide for its hospitality and good food. Company officials, construction crews, ball teams, and travelers all made it their stopping place when in the region. The old hotel was partially destroyed by fire on June 25, 1919. In 1932 the building was razed and hauled away to Penrose to be rebuilt into a private dwelling.

The Rockvale Town Hall was the recreation center for most of the miners. As late as 1918, the town hall was the meeting place for many lodges and organizations. Lodge meetings, moving pictures, dances, literary clubs, concerts, church plays, socials, teas and other forms of entertainment were held at regular intervals. On June 25, 1919 the Town Hall burned.

The Rockvale Town Hall had dances, plays, and programs and a Mr. Ecker obtained a lease to show motion pictures, which were very popular. One particular evening in 1919 the hall, filled with men, women, and children, the film caught fire. The projection booth was right over the front door, the only place for entering or leaving the hall.

Mr. Savant was running the projector, and instead of closing the burning film into the booth, he threw it out into the Town Hall. Soon the cry of “Fire,” Fire!” reverberated throughout the hall and all was pandemonium. No one could escape through the door and the windows were tall and narrow. Quick-thinking men picked up chairs and swinging them against the windows broke the frames as well as the glass. While the pianist, Hazel Powell, played stirring marches the men at each window lowered the women and children to safety. The men also jumped to safety after the pianist was safely out. This is the back of the town hall after the fire.

When the two-story hall collapsed, the sparks and flames ignited other buildings and on both sides of the block. All structures were soon on fire. Among those burned were the fire department, a barbershop, and several small candy and notion stores. Charred was Doran’ s Hotel, across the street. However, it did not collapse. Amos Boarding House, several saloons, and the Colorado Supply Store’s meat market still stood after being charred.

After the 1919 fire, what is left of the now present town hall. There was a jail under the fire station, which is now the town hall; the jail cells are still there.

A new fire station occupied the block after citizens removed the debris. From then on, the Y. M. C. A. building became the recreation center. Several years later another fire in that vicinity finished what remained of the buildings in that block. There were never any structures built to replace those lost.

Bell Dedication August 4, 2001

Rockvale was first protected from fires by the people of the community. Hose teams were established and in use in the early days of our history. There were three hose teams with a bell and a hand drawn hose cart. One of these having been preserved on what is known as School Hill. It has the hose cart with its tool box, hose and nozzles, its bell ringing with every turn of the wheel. The area of Stringtown, on Churchill Street, had one and one was where the town hall is now. In 1913 this one was replaced with the building that is in use today. This building was here during the fire of June 26, 1919 and received major damage to the roof and interior, but the frame of the building was of sand stone, and as you can see, it still stands today. The worst part of the history of this building all records were lost for the fire department and the town records.

In the Exporte, the town newspaper of July 3, 1906, each hose cart was manned with 18 people. If a fire broke out during the day, the ladies and business owners had to man the carts till the men could get out of the mine to take over. Most times it was too late and the building was destroyed.

Below: Marshall Walker, Jr., Jimmy Walker, mayor, Jesse Goodwin, Louis Tessadri, assistant chief Dave Evans, Delmer McKissack, and Marshall Walker, Sr.

When the picture was taken, Rockvale was part of the Florence Fire Protection District, and the town’s 24 volunteers were eager to secure more and better fire fighting equipment through the district. They had carefully preserved the town’s three hose carts used by the volunteers of the 1890s.
One was stored in the town garage, one loaned to the Florence Department for parades, and the third was stationed in a rebuilt hose-house on School  Hill shown in the photo. The hose cart was fully equipped with fire hose, nozzles, a tool box, and a clanging bell that sounded a warning at every turn of the wheel. (Only a few fireman could be present for this photo.)

On March 18, 1921 the Rockvale Volunteer Firemen’s Association was organized with 22 members. On March 25th ten more members joined. Dan Richards was appointed as fire chief and Tom Eason was president. The journals from March 1921 to present are in the hands of the present fire chief, Marty Walker.

In March 1926 the town purchased a fire truck from the Florence fire department. Today the department has two trucks. One belongs to the town of Rockvale and one the Florence Fire District.

The Rockvale Historical Club is working on a book to be kept at the town hall so visitors, families and friends can read on the history of the department. It will be a work in progress, as we want to collect pictures of the past, present and future firemen and firewomen.

Several years ago Mayor Fred Ardrey came across TWO bells. One was from the Old School Building, and Martin Kessler identified the other one as being from the Stringtown (Williamsburg) hose station, which he dismantled as a town employee.

Members of the Rockvale Historical Club raised money to have a memorial erected. With the help of Tom Shelnutt, Darrel Cool and Dave Barns, this bell has been erected here beside the fire station in Memory of all past, present and future firemen and women of Rockvale.

The bell and plaque were presented to the firemen and residents of Rockvale from the members of the Rockvale Historical Club.