The disastrous and spectacular Gokey fire originated in the Gokey Shoe Factory just north of the corner of Cherry and West Third Streets in Jamestown on Saturday night, March 12, 1910. By early Sunday morning it had spread to the Gokey offices facing West Third, and late Sunday there remained only smoking ashes.
Early Monday morning, the fire rekindled. A high wind propelled the flames across the street where they engulfed the Sherman House. The loss of two firemen, John Hanson and Alfred Shoesmith, added human tragedy to the vast destruction of property. These were the first of the firemen in the city's history to be killed in the line of duty.
The Jamestown Journal noted on March 15, 1910, "Never before in the history of Jamestown has there been any local event that has created such intense and universal interest as this fire and its attending calamities."
Crowds thronged the streets. Many came to the newspaper office in search of the latest details. The Journal's press was started on Monday afternoon, and by two o'clock a constant stream of papers was falling from the folding machine. "With the whir of the press almost constant from that hour until eight o'clock, the papers were sold about as fast as they could be printed."
In the issues that carried the complete story and pictures of the disaster, the editor immediately launched a crusade for a paid fire department to replace the traditional volunteer system . . . The proposed need was for ". . . paid men who may devote themselves to this work, who may make a study of lighting fires and of preventing fires . . ."
The cause was taken up in the months following the fire by other city institutions. Universal approval greeted the establishment of the Jamestown Fire Department on March 1, 1911.
The construction of the Hotel Samuels on the site of the burned out Sherman House was a further result of the Gokey fire. During its construction, Journal reporters eagerly noted the modern materials and methods. Structural steel beams weighing 1100 tons were the first of that type to be used in Jamestown. These were hoisted into place by an electric crane, also a first.
The sturdy newcomer to the downtown scene became the site of large civic functions, and for most of the following decade (until the building of the Furniture Mart in 1917) it provided exhibit space for the twice yearly furniture markets.
(This story is an excerpt from the book, An ImPRESSive Record; Jamestown Journal 1826 to 1941 by Helen G. Ebersole. The book is available for sale at the offices of The Post-Journal and the Fenton History Center for $15. It may also be ordered for delivery by mail. Send a check for $18.35, which includes tax and shipping, to: The Post-Journal History Book, Box 190, Jamestown, NY 14702-0190. The 115-year-old Jamestown Journal merged with the Morning Post in 1941 to become The Post-Journal.)