Sometime in late August or early September of 1896, a fire occurred in the woodhouse located on the east side of Wylie House. The woodhouse also served as a wash house and store room. The local newspaper reported on the fire, writing, “The frame building on the east side of the residence used as store room and wash house, was almost entirely consumed and at one time it looked as if the residence would be destroyed, as the roof of the main building caught fire in several places.”
The fire was soon detected and the Bloomington fire department was able to reach the house quickly, and immediately start the work of putting out the fire. Thankfully, the fire did not reach the rest of the house. The newspaper article reports that it was thought that the fire had accidentally been started by Anton Boisen, grandson of Theophilus Wylie. Shortly before the fire broke out, Anton had been in the garden burning caterpillar nests in the trees with fire on the end of a pole. He placed the pole, which he believed to have been extinguished, in the wash house. However, the pole likely ignited the fire. According to the newspaper article, $400 in damaged was caused by the fire, but the entirety of the cost of was covered by insurance.
We know that Anton’s sister, Marie, wrote to her fiancé, Morton C. Bradley about the fire, but only Morton’s letter of reply from September 4th still exists. He writes Marie that, “Actually, I don’t believe I took a breath all the time I was reading it [her letter]. I was in suspense, in fear that your home—and it must be dear to you, mine always to be—had burned… I don’t know what I should do in case a “big blaze” came “sailing” into my room. I fancy I run to a window and jump into the rain barrel… I think you acted extremely judiciously in consideration of the very exciting, dangerous, and nerve shattering conditions… But I do pity you in your task of cleaning up the house – that is if any of the firemen came inside. I have seen houses after the fire was out. If yours is anything at all like those I surely sympathize with you.”
Irene Fee, a friend of Anton and Marie’s mother, Louisa Wylie Boisen, kindly wrote to her on September 14. “I wish I could see you instead of having to write for we want so much to know all about the fire you were so unfortunate as to have.” She comments that she hopes there will not be trouble getting the insurance, and continues, “It is fortunate your home was saved. It would make me feel very bad to have misfortune happen to that dear old house where I had such lovely times when a child and so many pleasant hours since.”
Irene’s sentiments are shared by all of us who love Wylie House. Just think— if the fire has spread to the rest of the house, the Wylie family artifacts such as the numerous books and letters we have in our possession today might have been destroyed or irreparably damaged. Thank goodness for the speed and hard work of the fire department!
-Allison Haack, Graduate Student Volunteer