Old St. Andrews



Burning of the Argyll Hotel 1892



St. Andrews Beacon, March 24, 1892
Argyll Hotel Burned
St. Andrews Pioneer Summer Hotel Reduced to Ashe

The Argyll Hotel—The Pioneer summer hotel of St. Andrews—was reduced from a stately structure to a pile of smouldering ashes, on Sunday evening last. After the closing of the hotel season, last year, Mrs. Herbert, widow of the former proprietor, went to the United States for the winter months, leaving the house in charge of Mr. and Mrs. W. H. Williamson. They were careful people, and everything went well about the house until Sunday last.

About 1 o'clock on that day a fire was lighted in the gentlemen's parlor, a large room on the ground floor to the right of the main entrance. The fire was kept alive in the fireplace all the afternoon, without anything occurring to arouse the suspicions of the inmates of the house. As Mrs. Williamson sat down to tea, in one of the rooms a short distance from where the fire was burning, she heard a noise as if two doors had slammed together. Going out to ascertain the cause she smelt a strong smell of smoke. There was a little smoke visible in the gentlemen's parlor, but nothing of any consequence.

Going upstairs to the second floor, she threw open the doors of the ladies parlor, (which was located just over the other parlor) and a thick cloud of smoke thrust itself in her face. Thoroughly alarmed, she seized a dinner bell, and ran to the residence of Mr. Thomas Armstrong, about 200 yards distant. As quickly as possible, a general alarm was given. After alarming the neighbors, Mrs. Williamson flew back to the hotel, and running upstairs again, groped her way through the blinding smoke in the ladies' parlor to obtain possession of a box belonging to her which contained some valuable papers. She found the box, and when she was coming out of the room, the flames were making themselves manifest through the hall floor on the second flat.

Although the firemen made a quick response to the alarm, it took them almost twenty minutes to drag the lumbering old machines honored by the name of fire engines, to the scene of the fire. When they got there, there was no water to be had nearer than in a well across the track, alongside the railway tank, and in another in the rear of the Company's cottage. what seemed an hour was consumed in getting connections made. By this time, the fire,—which might have been stayed if water had been got on it in reasonable time,—was burning fiercely, alongside the chimney on the three floors, and the blinding smoke made it almost impossible for the men to live inside.

They stayed and fought the flames for about half an hour, when the water gave out, and they were reluctantly compelled to give up the struggle. In the meantime, scores of willing hands in various parts of the house were engaged in removing the furniture. All the furniture on the lower floor was taken out. On the second floor, with the exception of two or three rooms, which were so full of smoke that nobody could stay in them a minute, nearly all the rooms were emptied of their contents. Some furniture was also taken out of the fourth floor, the men working in the rooms until the approaching fire compelled them to lower themselves to the ground by means of rope. There were fourteen rooms in the second floor of the ell, over the dining hall and billiard room, and they were all divested of their contents before the flames took possession. The upper floor of the ell did not fare so well, very few things being rescued. An organ belonging to one of the last season's guests, was taken out in a slightly damaged state, but the hotel piano was almost ruined before a rescue was effected. When the firemen deserted the building, the southern portion of it was a mass of fiercely burning flames.

There was a strong north west wind blowing, which, while helping to feed the fire, also retarded its progress in the northern half of the building. But inch-by-inch, it increased its fiery grasp, until at eight o'clock the entire building was in a seething roaring flame. It was a magnificent sight, but the majority of the spectators were too full of regret at the destruction of the house to appreciate the grandeur of the scene before them. the front chimney, which had no doubt been the cause of the conflagration fell about 8:30 o'clock, the bricks being scattered far out amongst the crowed. No one was injured, though some people had very narrow escapes. All the other chimneys, with the exception of one leading from the dining room, fell as the woodwork was burned away from them. The latter maintained its erect attitude until the following morning, when it was thrown down to prevent its descending on the heads of those standing about. It was after midnight before the fire had exhausted itself.

After that time all that was standing of the once handsome Argyle hotel were the chimney above mentioned, two or three other pieces of brick-work, and an outhouse, which had been attached to the main building by a covered passage-way, familiarly termed "the bridge of sighs." This bridge was burned, but the small building was unscathed. The barn and its contents escaped. There was very little insurance on building or contents. The Western and British America had policies on the building for $6,000, which just covered outstanding mortgages. On the furniture, most of which was saved in a damaged state, there was an insurance of $1,000 in the North British and Mercantile office.

The total lost is estimated at about $15,000. The furniture, which was removed from the hotel, was left out all night in the fields, a guard being placed over it by the insurance agents.

The Land Company's cottage in the Park was in imminent danger of destruction, but by careful watching its destruction was prevented. John Rooney had his head injured by a chair being thrown upon it from a third storey.