Commercial Hotel
Corsicana, Navarro County, Texas


Commercial Hotel | Commercial Hotel Items


Man Found Dead In Debris Of Commercial Hotel Fire

A man believed to be about 50 years old was burned to death in a fire which destroyed the Commercial Hotel, 100 West Seventh avenue, late Friday night.

The fire victim at first was tentatively identified as J. W. Daniel, address unknown, by W. E. Newman, hotel owner. However, Daniel later showed up at the hotel.

Newman said registration cards which carried names address of the hotel guests were lost in the fire.

The dead man was found in a hall on the third story of the hotel Saturday morning by Ass’t Fire Chief Billy Draper. Draper said the man was lying face down and that he was partially covered by debris. He was severely burned about the legs, back and arms, Draper said. The body was taken to the Griffin Funeral Home.

Loss Is $150,000
Newman estimated the fire loss at about $150,000. He said his loss was partially covered by insurance.

The hotel owner said he thought the blaze could have started from a gas heater or a cigarette. No one was in the room where the fire started when it was discovered, he added.

The fire, which started in a third-story room about 10 p.m. Friday, gutted this Corsicana landmark as well as causing almost total loss to the five offices and shops on the ground floor.

Two Firemen Injured
A Corsicana fireman, W. M. Lynch, received a painful leg injury, and an Ennis fireman, D. E. Willis, was taken to the P. and S. Hospital after he became exhausted.

Lynch injured his right leg while playing a hose on the fire. A well-meaning civilian was helping him hold the big line when a burning screen fell to the ground.

The firemen’s helper let go of the hose. Left alone with the nozzle, Lynch was thrown and the hose hit his leg.

Willis became ill and exhausted after several hours of fire fighting, but was able to return to Ennis in a Corsicana squad car about 3 a.m.

Firemen from Corsicana and Ennis had the blaze under control about midnight but local fire fighters remained on the job through Saturday morning.

Alert Night Clerk
Quick action by Night Clerk, A. R. Greer, probably saved the lives of several of the 20 or 25 who were in the hotel when the fire started. The strong north wind blew flames and sparks for blocks but no other buildings were ignited.

A group of firemen were posted on buildings to the north of the hotel and wet down the roof tops. A constant vigil also was kept on buildings to the south and west. Fortunately the buildings to the south were considerable distances away from the hotel fire.

At the peak of the fire the two departments were playing 15 lines of hose on the conflagration. All the Corsicana equipment was at the scene and Ennis sent a pumper and a full crew of men.

Fire Chief Howard Bivins said he had no idea how the fire started.

Bivins said he put in a call for help to the Ennis department as soon as he saw how big the fire was. The Ennis truck arrived in a very short time.

Quarters occupied by the Western Guarantee Loan Co., and the Johnson Optical Co., were almost completely ruined by the blaze and water as were the other offices which were unoccupied.

Greer said he first knew of the fire when he received a call from a man in a room on the third floor. He said he didn’t remember his name.

“The man said he smelled smoke,” Greer said, “and that he thought the fire was in the room third floor.”

The night clerk rushed to the floor and the roomer told him he thought the fire was in a room next to his. Greer unlocked the door and flames leaped out at him.

Called Occupants
He slammed the door and yelled fire while running back to his desk. Noting the room keys on the rack he called each occupied room by telephone.

“I was sure there were six or eight in bed and after I called them I counted as they came down,” he said.

The room where the fire broke out, according to Greer, was rented to A. E. Cox. The night clerk said he was not in his room at the time of the fire.

“I believe he was out to supper,” he said.

According to the night clerk the fire spread so fast that few if any of those registered were able to remove anything from their rooms.

“We had time to get out, all right,” he said, “but we didn’t have time to carry anything out.”

Firemen were handicapped by the cold, high wind and a few minutes after they started pouring water on the blaze they were drenched.

Coffee Served Firemen
George’s Grill and several of the firemen’s wives and others brought piping hot coffee and rolls to the men who were fighting the fire. Several citizens also pitched in and helped Corsicana’s small-numbered department handle the hoses.

The fire, according to the night clerk, started in the next to the last room in the northwest corner of the building. In a matter of minutes it had spread throughout the floor and had caught the lower floors.

The flames, propelled by the high wind, shot into the air and were visible for miles, State Highway Patrolmen Jack Gaines and Henry Tucker said they saw the fire lighted sky about 15 miles from Corsicana.

Flames Visible
Other motorists who were passing through Corsicana also reported they had seen the flames leaping into the sky from several miles out.

At one time the fire gained such headway that it lighted the area for several blocks. Mail in the postal box in the lobby was not damaged a postal official said.

Shortly after the fire broke out lights in the western part of the city went out. Service was restored in a short time.

Street lights along part of Main and Beaton streets were out the rest of the night.

A crowd of several thousand gathered at the scene and shivered as they watched the flames eat away at one of the city’s oldest permanent buildings.

The hotel is owned by W. T. Newman. It is believed it was built in the middle 1880’s. one spectator said it had been remodeled about 30 years ago.

It was stated that about 30 persons were registered at the hotel Friday night, but that several were out when the fire was discovered.

The firemen are to be congratulated for the efficient manner in which they fought the blaze and for preventing it from spreading to adjoining buildings.

Hugh Fitzgerald, Ennis fire chief, called the Daily Sun office Saturday morning and complimented the Corsicana firemen for the work they did.

“Your department and its men sure did a good job Friday night and I want to say publicly they did a fine job and it’s worthwhile to work with a department that operates like Corsicana’s,” he said.

Blaze Under Control
In order to fight the fire, trucks were spotted at four different locations, on Seventh and Sixth avenues and on Beaton street. Water from several lines was still being played on the fire at 5 a.m.

At 2 a.m. the fire was pretty much centered in the middle and front part of the hotel on Beaton street. Flames still licked at rafters, beams and walls. Embers flew across the street and as the firemen got the blaze under control in one area it would break out in another. The Ennis truck was able to leave before daybreak.

Shortly after the fire gained headway, police and firemen warned spectators to stay well back because they feared the walls might collapse.

Chief Bivins said he planned to make a thorough inspection of the building Saturday and that he would conduct an investigation to try and determine what caused the fire.

He was unable to estimate the loss Saturday.

Firemen said this was the worst fire in Corsicana since the glove factory burned about two years ago.



Commercial Hotel Fire Victim Now Believed to Be J. M. Jarvis By Probers

After a thorough investigation, Corsicana police and fire officials announced Tuesday that they thought the man burned to death in the Commercial Hotel fire here Friday was J. M. Jarvis, address unknown.

However the officials said the identification wasn’t positive and are asking that if anyone knows the whereabouts of Jarvis that they be notified.

Laundry Marks Help
Officials said the dead man was about 55 years old, approximately six feet tall and weighing about 155 or 160 pounds. They said he had brownish hair.

The tentative identification was made from laundry marks found on pieces of clothing at the fire. Jarvis was the person who first discovered the fire, A. R. Greer, hotel clerk said.

Ass’t Fire Chief Billy Draper said pieces of trousers and underwear were found where the man’s body was discovered and that the victim’s skin wasn’t burned where his body rested on this clothing.

The clothing bore the laundry mark JMJ, Draper checked with the Sanitary Laundry and Cleaners and found this concern had such a laundry mark.

Package Delivered
Officials at the laundry said this mark was issued to J. M. Jarvis who had sent in laundry from the Commercial Hotel Nov. 2, the day before the fire.

At the laundry, an employe said the laundry had been delivered to room 322 the evening of Nov. 2.

The hotel clery, said he remembered Jarvis as having checked into room 332 on Thursday. He also said the fire broke out in room 331 and that Jarvis was the man who called him and told him he smelled smoke.

Greer said he was positive that Jarvis preceded him to the lower floor after the fire was discovered.

“He had on his pants, shoes and underwear. He had a small grip and a shirt. I’m not sure if he put the shirt in the grip or carried it over his arm,” Greer added.

Could Have Returned
Asked if Jarvis might have returned to the third floor where the body was found, he said he could have but that he didn’t notice him going back up stairs.

Officials also are inclined to believe that Jarvis is the fire victim because he hasn’t been seen since the fire started.

Registrations cards which were thought lost in the fire were found Monday but were of little use as they were covered with oil and charred.

Draper pointed out that there was a discrepancy in the clerk’s recollection of events and the registration cards.

“The card rack showed a registration for room 322 but not for 332. However such a card could have been lost,” he said.

Greer said he remembered Jarvis because it was Jarvis who called the desk and reported smelling smoke.

I went to the third floor and started checking rooms.” He said.

“Jarvis went along and said he thought the fire was to the other side of his room.

“I opened the door to room 331 and saw the fire. I threw some water on the blaze and realized I couldn’t stop it so I closed the door and returned to the lobby and told the boy to call the fire department.

“When I returned to the third floor, Jarvis had opened the door to 331 and the fire was gaining headway.

“Jarvis and several others came to the lobby with me.”

Teeth Missing
The fire victim had no teeth, police said, and the thory was advanced to that the man might have returned to the third floor in search of his teeth and became trapped.

A further aid to identification was that hair found on the unburned part of the man’s body corresponded to the color of Jarvis’ hair. This was confirmed by W. E. Griffin, funeral director, who picked up the body.

‘Even with the information we have, we aren’t closing this case until we are positive the dead man is Jarvis,” said Draper.’

“Everything points to him being the victim but we’ve had so many leads go wrong the past two days that we can’t be certain until we find no further trace of Jarvis.”



Fire Victim Is Buried On Friday

Funeral services for the Commercial Hotel fire victim were held Friday at 10 a.m. from the Griffin Funeral Chapel. Burial was in Oakwood cemetery. The rites were conducted by Rev. Millard B. Box, pastor of the Memorial Baptist church.

The identity of the 50-year-old man has not been definitely established, but is believed to be J. M. Jarvis of Baytown.

The charred body was discovered by firemen on the third floor of the hotel Saturday morning following the big fire of undetermined origin that broke out last Friday night.

Efforts of fire and police officials, veterans administration, hotel management and others to learn the positive identity of the man were futile.


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© Copyright February, 2020
Edward L. Williams