Historically Speaking: Sibley Business District destroyed by fire

By Jessica Gorman

Early on the morning of October 2, 1926, at about 1:00, a fire, believed to have been started by a kerosene heater in the kitchen, broke out in the Sibley Hotel. With limited availability of water and no fire department, the fire spread rapidly through the block that made up the business district of Sibley. Besides the hotel, the businesses destroyed in the fire were B.H. Lawhon & Co., Curtis & Scriber’s Market, Ventress Drug Store, Edwards Barber Shop, E.E. Kennon’s store, and Dr. B.A. Norman’s office. 

While damages were estimated to be approximately $75,000, the loss of property was not the most devastating result of the fire. Asleep in the hotel, in rooms located above the kitchen, was the Minchew family. Four men working for the railroad managed to jump from the burning building, but the Minchew family did not escape. L.L. Watts, working at the depot across the street, tried to alert those in the hotel, but it was too late, and the fire burned too fast. Pratt Minchew and his wife, Dera, along with their sons, eleven-year-old Pratt and fourteen-year-old Arthur, and their four-year-old nephew, John Ward Gray, were all killed in the fire. The victims were placed in “five rough boxes side by side at the filling station across the street from the burning square.” They were buried in the Bistineau cemetery that afternoon. The only surviving member of the Minchew family was their newly married daughter, Bernice Minchew Braswell.

An editorial published later that week in the Webster Signal expressed the feelings of the people of Sibley. “But there will be always a tinge of sorrow in Sibley because of the fact that five human lives were destroyed in that disastrous fire of Saturday, October 2.”

This column is intended to share snippets of Webster Parish history. Please direct any questions or suggestions to dorcheatmuseum@yahoo.com or visit us at the museum. 

(Jessica Gorman is the Assistant Director and Archivist for the Dorcheat Historical Association Museum in Minden and is an avid genealogist.)


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