In the Friday, June 27, 1913 edition of The Marietta Journal and Courier, the front page was dominated by stories regarding R.H. Northcutt’s residence on Atlanta Street burning to the ground. The home was lost because several water mains were closed off and no water was available to fight the fire.
The fire was reported as beginning in the home’s attic and discovered at 2:30 a.m. on Monday, June 23.
A hose wagon arrived on the scene quickly and two lines of fire hose were immediately stretched out, but there was no water available at the hydrants. Instead, a chemical agent was turned on and the 50 gallons of water on the wagon was used. But, those supplies were quickly exhausted and there was still no water at the hydrants. The operation then turned from fighting the fire to rapidly removing all the furnishings from the home.
Forty-five minutes later, a stream of weak and unusable water was reported as being available at the hydrants.
The reporter on scene remarked in the story that – “It was a pitiful sight to see about 200 people standing by with willing hearts and ready hands but no water, while the fine residence went up in smoke.”
Within 60 seconds of receiving the first call of no water, D.T. Baker, the night engineer at the water plant, had the valves from the reservoir opened to the big mains in the city and was applying direct pressure from the plant’s steam pump. He soon received a message saying that there was still no water available at the hydrants. Baker then increased the speed of the steam pump until the pressure rose to 100 pounds. Again, he received a call saying there was no water. Baker assumed that there had to be a blockage somewhere and said that he could not increase the pressure without damaging the pump or the mains.
Ralph Northcutt reportedly drove his car to the home of Mr. Early, the superintendent of the water works, and rushed the man to the plant to see if he could locate the trouble. After a quick inspection, Early reported that everything was in order and that Baker was forcing the highest amount of pressure to the scene of the fire.
Early then rushed to the cut off valve on Sessions Street where he found that the water had been shut off. Once that line was open, another telephone message reported that there was still no water available at the fire. Without wanting to waste time hunting a second blockage around town, Early re-closed the Sessions Street main and then opened up the one beyond the plant that controlled the water supply from the north end of Kennesaw Avenue.
The path that the water then had to take was a long trip around the McNeel Marble Company through a small six inch main back to the Marietta Square and then down to fire, which resulted in the arrival of the weak stream.
As soon as it was daylight, a committee from the Marietta Board of Lights and Water, Superintendent Early and James T. Groves made an investigation into the trouble with the water supply. The investigation revealed that the large main from the pumping station direct to downtown, as well as two large side mains had been closed by an unknown party. The closed valves were located on the main coming in on Cherokee Street at the corner of Cherokee and Lawrence streets, the corner of Church Street and Kennesaw Avenue, and the corner of Sessions and Campbell streets.
It was reported that no one connected with the water department ever closed or opened these valves except for Superintendent Early himself or an employee that he took with him and worked solely under his direction.
Based on their findings, the committee believed that someone or a group of people that were sufficiently acquainted with the water system knew which valves to close in order to prevent a sufficient supply of water to fight fires. The condition of the valves and the ground around them told the committee that the valves had been closed for at least a week if not longer.
Marietta Mayor J.J. Black later that day announced a $100 reward for the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the closing of the valves and for deliberately depriving the city of the proper fire protection needed if a fire broke out.
Damon Poirier is the Newsroom Administrator for the Marietta Daily Journal.
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