This Week in Colorado History: A dramatic weekend

This week in 1878, Golden fell victim to two devastating fires. On a Thursday, the fire-alarms sounded for “Jarvis Hall, the Episcopal School for boys, located one mile south of town.” Though the fire department rushed to the school, they were able to do little but rescue valuables because of a lack of water near the building. The Everett Hook and Ladder Company did come to the scene in an attempt to fight the fire, but by then it was too late to save the building. Members of the Everett Hook and Ladder Company with members of the Excelsior Fire and Hose Company instead worked to protect Matthews Hall and the School of Mines from the fire. Though the exact cause of the fire was unknown, supposition was that the fire had been caused by a defective flue.

A single fire would have been concerning enough, but on Saturday, another building went up in flames. Matthews Hall, next door to Jarvis Hall, was generally believed to be the victim of arson, as the fire began in the belfry and rapidly consumed the roof. Again, the fire departments came to the scene and worked to save property. They were not especially successful, and a 1500 volume theological library was burned. Matthews Hall cost $15,000 and was ensured for $7000 plus $1000 for the library, meaning a great private loss fell on school principal Rev. Bellam. Despite the monetary set-back, “The Colorado Transcript” was optimistic about Bellam’s future endeavors.

In between the two fires, Golden did not experience the quiet day one might have expected. On the corresponding Firday at around 11:00 four prisoners attempted to escape the county jail. The men obtained a steel bar from the door of a vault and used it as a crow bar to remove the bars from their windows. Then, they climbed out through the ten inch by two foot opening. The timing was impeccable, but a young girl who lived near the jail saw them departing and told her mother. The mother in turn sounded the alarm. The jailer, Boyd, took off after them and fortuitously ran into former sheriff W.L. Smith. Smith took over the chase while other law enforcement officials organized an armed posse. The sheriff ultimately captured the prisoners near Dead Man’s Gulch and returned them to the county jail.

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