May 26, 2022

The Silent Sentinels

The Silent Sentinels

As the day dawned, smoke curled up from the ashes.  Homes and business buildings dating from the earliest days of the settlement were gone, destroyed in a conflagration of horrific proportions.  It was Saturday, May 4, 1872, the day after the infamous Black Friday Fire.

The fire had started on the second floor of the Shenk and Lang drug store and quickly spread in all directions.  Wooden structures lining East Canal Street (Main Street today), one by one, burst into flames.  The only defense against the spreading destruction was bucket brigades hauling water from cisterns, creeks and the nearby canal.  A plea for help went out across the wires.  The Fort Wayne Fire Company took to the rails and raced the 45 miles to Delphos in an astonishing 41 minutes.  Van Wert arrived in 14 minutes and within another 14 minutes was battling the blaze.  The Lima Company also arrived in good time and joined in the fight.  Despite all efforts forty-five structures were consumed including businesses, barns, sheds and homes.  St. John’s church, at that time a log structure, school and convent caught fire multiple times but the flames were fought back each time.

Within days, hours, of the disaster, plans were being made to rebuild only this time more structures would be constructed of fire resistant brick.  From those earliest structures two survive to this day.  One stands on the corner of Third and Main Streets and is the home to Pete’s Hong Kong restaurant today.  Built by J.H. Moenig it has been home to many different businesses in its 150 years including several years housing the city’s post office.  It’s probably best known by many as the former location of the Pitsenbarger Supply Company.  A unique feature of the building is the block in the SE corner of the building about twelve feet off the ground.  The limestone block identifies the adjacent streets as North Main Street and East Canal Street.  Those were the names of Third Street and Main Street prior to 1890.

The other existing building that sprang up from the ashes after the fire was built by John Walsh and Joe Hunt.  Built to house a pharmacy, a large mortar and pestle was situated on the top of the building’s façade.  John Wahmhoff bought the business and building in 1878 from John Hunt. He sold the business to Walter and Harold Remlinger in 1923 and sold them the building in 1946.  There was a pharmacy at this address from 1849 until Remlinger Drug closed in 2003.  The building is now the Delphos Club.  Both the Delphos Club and Pete’s Restaurant buildings will celebrate 150 years in 2022.

While these silent sentinels kept watch over downtown Delphos, other structures dating to the 1870’s watched the history of our city pass by.

The Dienstberger House on East Second Street dates to the Civil War era.  This brick, Federal style house was built by Civil War veteran Jacob Dienstberger.  He later built his blacksmith shop right next door which is today Jack’s Pizza.  The residents of this house saw the Black Friday Fire, watched St. John’s church rise from its foundation, saw men march off to WWI and WWII and saw the city’s streets evolve from horse and carriage to the interurban to automobiles.  Facing being razed, the Dienstberger house was moved across the street in 2000.

Back on Main Street is the former Lang Mill sited just south of the post office.  Built in 1873 as the Union Flouring Mill the equipment in the four story building was powered by a Babcock and Wilcox 75 horsepower automatic engine.  The mill also operated as the Eagle Flouring Mill and later the George F. Lang Milling Company.  The mill closed in the early 20th century and the building became retail space and apartments.

On East Second Street stands St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.  The foundation of this grand edifice was laid out in 1878, construction finished in the fall of 1880 and the building dedicated in January 1881.  This brick church, stone faced in 1919, replaced a large, log structure built under the guidance of Fr. Bredeick.

Another brick home stands on Canal Street between Fourth and Fifth Streets.  Built by early immigrants Frederick and Johanna (Fromback) Buettner, the house may date to the Civil War era or earlier.  A little more research will be needed to confirm its age.

The oldest brick structure in Delphos is the Washington Township School at the corner of Fourth and Jefferson Streets.  This small, brick building dates to the 1840’s, the very beginning of the settlement that would become Delphos.  The school building sits quietly, awaiting its fate.

There are multiple houses in Delphos that date to the 1870’s but that’s a topic for another article. 

The Eagle Flouring Mill on North Main Street

The Wahmhoff Drug Store, ca. 1879. Note the mortar and pestle on top of the building.
The Moenig building, corner of Third and Main Streets, early 1900’s.

 

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