Monday, May 27, 2024

The Bigfork Fire of 1912

by Kyle Stetler
| November 9, 2022 12:00 AM

While many of us are still digging, or sawing out, from last week’s heavy wet snowstorm that knocked out power and brought down many trees in Bigfork, it might be interesting to note that this little village is no stranger to disaster. For example, back in 1937, the Bigfork Inn burned down, but not before the kegs of beer were rolled out into the street. And in last month’s column we touched on that time in 1918 when Horn’s Mercantile was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Six years before that, however, in August of 1912, perhaps one of Bigfork’s largest disasters struck. Before we jump into that story, some context might be in order, because one of the family’s most impacted by that fateful day in 1912 also happened to be one of Bigfork’s most influential. To that end, most of the following material comes from the extensive interviews conducted with Jeff Wade, the great-grandson of BF Weed, during the development of the documentary.

The Weed family was one of the early groups to move to the village and at the head of everything was B.F. Weed who arrived in Bigfork in 1902. Soon thereafter his two sons, Alexander or “Eck” and Benjamin came to town. The Weed family had several business ventures including a restaurant called the “Fisherman’s Home”. Mr. Weed and his sons would catch all the fish down in the bay, or the lake, in the morning then serve them all day, or till they ran out. In 1908, the Weeds were also instrumental in helping develop a water system for Bigfork. Redwood pipes wrapped in wire were placed in hand-dug trenches that were routed to the early subscribers of the water system all fed from a large 6,000-gallon water tank positioned to the northeast of town, near where the Wild Mile trail starts. As the years progressed, so did the Weeds businesses and by 1912 the Weeds had started the first bank, an ice cream parlor, and added a boarding house to the back of the restaurant so that in total along the west side of Electric Avenue the Weed’s owned four different buildings. But that was about to change.

On August 8th, 1912, one of Eck Weeds grandsons, who was only three years old at the time, decided to look for a toy in a closet under the home’s stairwell. As it was dark in the stairwell closet, it is believed that the three-year-old boy lit a match to see better and somehow that lit match caught a shirt sleeve or piece of cloth on fire. Soon the entire house was engulfed in flames and, we can surmise with a slight August breeze behind it, the fire spread to the nearby adjoining buildings. Within an hour, all four Weed buildings had burned to the ground, leaving only the boardwalks in front of them standing. Luckily nobody was killed or seriously injured in the fire. Mr. Wade recounted though that his grandmother had rushed out of the house with his then 3-month-old mother and hander her off to someone as she tried to go back into the house to save anything she could. Later in life, three different people told Mr. Wade’s mother that they were the person that had carried her to safety.

And while many industrious entrepreneurs were quick to rebuild back in the early 20th century, with such thorough and complete devastation, reconstruction did not happen immediately. According to Mr. Wade, Eck Weed, eventually rebuilt his barbershop, and then came Weed Hall, close to where the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts stands today, as did some private homes and a few other businesses. As we clean up the tree branches and scape ice, we can be thankful that the storm wasn’t quite as bad as the fateful afternoon 110 years ago. But it also serves as a good reminder, keep the matches away from small humans.


The Weed family, next to their "Fisherman's Home Cafe, displays a day's catch of large trout to be cooked and served for their customers. (Courtesy of the Jeff Wade Family)


Photo of Weeds Ice Cream parlor on west side of Electric Ave. in Bigfork, taken before the fire of 1912. (Courtesy of the Jeff Wade Family)


Photo of buildings on west side of Electric Ave. that were destroyed in the fire of 1912, Bigfork, Montana. (Courtesy of the Jeff Wade Family)


The Weed family home in Bigfork. (Courtesy of the Bigfork Eagle)