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As It Was: Fires Retard Early Growth of Klamath Falls

A series of early fires plagued the Southern Oregon hamlet of Linkville, Ore., greatly retarding its growth for at least 20 years.

George Nurse founded the town in 1867 on the Link River that connects Upper Klamath Lake with Lake Ewauna.  By 1892, the town and its post office had been renamed Klamath Falls.

The first big fire, at 2 a.m. on Sept. 6, 1889, destroyed nearly the entire business district, including Forbes’ Saloon, the Smith and St. Charles hotels, the Gleim Livery Stable, drug stores, and the post office. 

No one died and only Ben Monroe was injured, suffering head burns.  He reportedly had fallen asleep in a back room of the Forbes’ Saloon while smoking a pipe that ignited the disastrous fire.

Three years later, a morning downtown fire on April 8, 1892, consumed a general store, hotel, barber shop and a saloon.  Two years after that on July 2, 1894, fire destroyed “a considerable business portion of the west end of town.”

The fires stunted the town’s growth.  Its population of 364 in 1890 had only reached 447 by the turn of the century.


Sources: Helfrich, Devere. "Fires of Klamath." Klamath Echoes - No. 4 Centennial Issue, 1967, pp. 5,6, 68-71, klamathcountyhistoricalsociety.org/images/Echoes/Klamath-Echoes-No.-4---Centennial-issue-Part-1.pdf. Accessed 19 Sept. 2019; "History Snapshot: 130 Years Ago." The Midge: Cultural Newsletter for the Klamath Basin 4 Sept. 2019 [“Destruction of the Business Part of Linkville.” Portland Oregonian 7 Sept. 1889 on Sept. 7, 1889]

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.