The spectacular Music Hall fire in 1915 on the Independence Square burned out most of the entire block and effectively put 15 business houses out of business.

The fire apparently started on a cold February night at 208 W. Maple Ave. (the site Square Pizza today) in the Freedwell Restaurant owned by A.A. Christian. The fire attracted the attention of the night operator of the Home Telephone Company, which was in the Ott Building. The operator immediately notified the fire department, but firefighting was not as efficient as it is today. When it was determined that the fire was beyond control, the Kansas City Fire Department was called in as backup.

The Music Hall was built by Joseph A. McCoy in 1895. On the first floor facing Maple were four storefronts, one of which was the Freedwell Restaurant. The Jackson County Light, Heat, and Power Company was next door. The entire second floor was a place of entertainment, which boasted a seating capacity of 500. The building and its contents were a total loss, except for the records of the power and light company, which were safely stored in a fireproof safe.

The Ott building was built in 1897. It was owned by Albert M. Ott, his sister, Mrs. A.J. Bundschu, and a brother, Dr. Lambert Ott. Only the walls of this building were left standing. There were three storefronts on the ground floor and office space on the second floor. The Home Telephone Company had only been in business eight years. Some of the other businesses that sustained losses were the undertakers, Bower and Company, the George C. Miles Grocery Store, the Pressley Fish Market, and the J. Cleveland Newsstand.

In the J.V. Compton Building to the west on Maple were the Singer Sewing Machine Company, the Schweer’s Candy Kitchen, and the offices of William C. Ross, an attorney.

The Justus DeCoursey Building at 204 W. Maple was also leveled. In this building were DeCoursey’s feed store, the Charles Holt Barber Shop, and the offices of Dr. E.M. Phenix with white patients on the ground floor and Africian-American patients on the second floor.

The heat was so great that it shattered the plate glass windows of the Watkins Music store across the street in the Metropolitan Hotel, and blistered the pianos. The heat also fried the fruits and vegetables of the Joseph Capello’s Fruit Market. The boarders in the hotel were so alarmed that they started packing up to evacuate.

Italian Joseph Capello set up his fruit market in the hotel with his son, Charles Capello. Joseph was born in Sicily, coming to Independence, where he maintained his fruit market for 20 years before his death two years after the fire in February 1917.

Around the corner on North Liberty, the Frank L. Compton Livery stable was a total loss, but as luck would have it, a few days earlier he held an auction and sold off all of his horses and buggies and left the building vacant. Frank and his wife, Lucy Jane were the parents of my fourth grade teacher at Ott School, Pauline Bachmann, and the founder of Polly’s Pop, Polly Compton.

The Bank of Independence, sitting at the northwest corner of Maple and Liberty survived the fire – and the building still stands today – because it had pretty good firewalls on both sides of the building.

As strange as it might sound, it was reported that the very next day a stray cat took the life of a poor little mouse that had survived the fire.

Reference: “Independence & 20th Century Pioneers,” by Pearl Wilcox.

Reach Ted Stillwell at or 816-896-3592.