Night Riders Fire Big Covington Warehouse

Work in Very shadow of Cincinnati – Cut Telephone Wires and Smash Fire-Alarm Boxes.  Homes Destroyed – Loss Will Be Great

 After cutting telephone wires and smashing fire alarm boxes so that the flames might gather headway before the firemen could arrive, “Night Riders” at 2:45 o’clock Thursday morning applied a torch to the immense tobacco warehouse of T. S. Hamilton & Co., independent buyers, Philadelphia, Fourth and Bakewell Sts., Covington, Kentucky.

 In the great conflagration which followed, the warehouse, with its 300,000 pounds of tobacco was burned to the ground.  Half a dozen residences were destroyed.  The massive bridge of the C & O, spanning the Ohio River, was set on fire in the middle by falling embers and damaged.

 The loss is estimated at $200,000.

 The Night Riders did not come, as in their raids on the smaller Kentucky towns, in a great cavalcade, firing revolvers and rifles.  Instead, they worked silently and secretly, but their work was just as effective.

 Independent Buyer

 Hamilton is known as an independent buyer, because he buys tobacco from all growers who offer it, and does not buy alone from the American Society of Equity, the farmers’ pooling alliance.

 Several tobacco warehousemen in the vicinity of the Hamilton warehouse have had armed guards at their plants for several nights, fearing just such a blaze.

 That the fire was started buy Night Riders is firmly believed by the Covington Police.  Tuesday night a party of five men entered the saloon of James Thompson,  Fourth and Main Streets, Covington, and while getting a couple of drinks apiece questioned him as to the locality of the tobacco warehouses.

 See Three Men

 William Bookie, living directly in the rear of Armstrong’s tobacco warehouse, Sixth St., between Main and Bakewell, was aroused about 10 o’clock Wednesday night by three men passing through his yard.  He ran to a nearby saloon and, reinforced by Jack Frost, Dave Johnson and Ollie Frost, whom he found there, he returned. As the four approached the three men, who had scaled the fence separating the yard from the alley, ran down the alley and disappeared.  Patrolmen Doyle and Brink were informed of the occurrence and investigated.

 Awake, Woman

 Mrs. Gould, wife of W. S. Gould, City auditor of Covington, was awakened from sleep about 3 o’clock Thursday morning by the sound of men’s voices in the alley, which lies between the warehouse and her home, 316 Philadelphia St.

 She arose and looked out the window.  She could see nothing in darkness, but a moment later she saw sheets of fire shoot up from the corner of the wooden warehouse next to the brick engine house.

 An instant later another sheet of flame shot up from the Bakewell St. and alley corner.

 The fire was seen by Patrolmen Brink and Charles Francis, a night watchman. All turned in an alarm, and soon all the fire fighting force of Covington was on the scene.  They were utterly unable to cope with the flames.

 An appeal was sent to the Cincinnati Department for aid, and Chief Archibald despatched Marshal Phil Hurley and Engine No. 9 and Hose Co. 1 to the scene.  Marshall Hurley assisted materially in directing the fire fight, and the two companies did good work.

 Runs Two Engines

 Engineer Joe Bartlett, of the Nines, took charge of the Covington engine upon his arrival, as the Covington man was having trouble getting it started.  For the balance of the time, Bartlett ran both engines.

 Those who first discovered the fire lost no time in alarming residents on the three streets facing the warehouse, for the fire, fanned by a brisk Eastern wind, was burning high.  Everybody escaped, and in many instances the furniture was saved after the houses had caught fire.

 Cut Wires

 Before setting the fire the Night Riders cut the telephone lines in the immediate neighborhood.  Among these wires was the wire leading to a fire-alarm box close to the warehouse.

 Fearful of a visit from the Night Riders, Manager Selby has been standing on guard at the warehouse at night for the past two weeks.  Wednesday night he was detained at home.  Night watchman Joe Jones was left in charge.  Shortly before 3 o’clock, according to his story, he went to his home nearby, to take a dose of medicine.  When he returned the warehouse was wrapped in flames.

 Nellie Feeney, 20, daughter of Charles Feeney, saloon keeper at Third and Bakewell Sts., has been ill in bed for two months.  When the fire caught in the saloon building over which the Feeney’s live, it was seen she would have to be removed.  Owen Reese and Stanley Connetta placed her in a chair and carried her to a neighbor’s home. 

Great Loss

 Considerable importance is attached to the men who were found in the alley in the rear of Armstrong’s tobacco warehouse earlier in the night.  An immense quantity of tobacco is stored there, and next door is the Eshelby tobacco factory.  A fire similar to the Mitchell conflagration would have caused a tremendous loss.

 Stories are pouring into the Covington police of suspicious characters seen in the neighborhood of the warehouse Wednesday and Thursday night, and every clue is being run down, but it is believed that the incendiaries have made good their escape to their homes.

 They did not come on horseback with the crack of a rifle, as they have done on their raids through the State, but they came quietly, investigated the ground, bided their time and then did their work, quietly, quickly, and thoroughly.

 It is believed that they had the horses, which should afford their means of escape, quartered in the neighborhood, possibly as far away as Ludlow.

 In the burned warehouse over 100 employees were working daily.  All these will be thrown out of work.  Many of the families burned out by the fire will suffer in consequence, as the husbands are out of work and have been for some time.

 Early in the fire the big machine factory of Houston, Stanwood & Gamble was threatened with destruction.  It is directly across Third St. from the square in which the warehouse is situated, and although half a square from the warehouse, burning embers fell on the roof and set fire to it.  The attention of firemen was at once directed to this new danger, and they extinguished the flames before serious damage was done.

 When the alarm was given concerning the presence of suspicious characters about the Armstrong warehouse police, who were called, remained on guard, expecting the men to return.  They were still there when the Hamilton fire broke out, and redoubled their precautions, fearing that it might be the first of a series of warehouse fires.  The men did not return, however.

 An oil can found in the rear of Armstrong’s proved to have contained grease used in the engine room that had been emptied and thrown out.

 Guard Cincinnati Warehouses

 The burning of the Hamilton tobacco barns and other recent acts of lawlessness were the general subjects of discussion on the Cincinnati breaks Thursday.  A good sprinkling of growers were present during sales, and a number of unconfirmed rumors were in circulation that the scraping of tobacco beds was being practised in neighboring Ohio and Kentucky counties.

 From Brown Co. have come stories that the new tobacco beds now under canvas have been hoed up and the young plants destroyed on farms where the owners insisted on starting a 1908 crop.

 Precautions have been taken at all Cincinnati warehouses, which include several owned by the American Tobacco Co., to prevent attempts at incendiarism, by increasing the forces of night watchmen.  The police patrolling the tobacco district have also been given instructions to pay particular attention to that territory.


from the Kentucky Post, March 27, 1908. If you need a little background on who the Night Rider's were, it's here.