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Milam County, Texas - Mundine Hotel Fire

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One interesting establishment in the early days of Rockdale was the Mundine Hotel. In 1880 John Mundine of Lexington built a three-story brick structure on the corner of Main and Railroad streets, at the present site of McVoy’s Grocery Store. The hotel opened in 1881 under the management of Dr. and Mrs. W. A. Brooks and soon became the social center of the town. But on June 8, 1888, the Mundine Hotel was destroyed by the most disastrous fire in Milam County. That fire was also the most tragic, as twelve people lost their lives. Mrs. Brooks and her four children were among the deceased. They were laid to rest in the new I.O.O.F. Cemetery.



The Mundine Hotel before and after burning (June 4, 1888) is shown here. The 10 people pictured were all casualties of the fire. (The hotel site is now occupied by McVoy's Grocery.)

SOURCE: Marshall, Ida Jo (ed.), Rockdale Centennial: A History of Rockdale, Texas, 1874-1974. Rockdale, TX: Rockdale Reporter, 1974. (p. 10-11)

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Galveston Daily News, Tues., 5 June 1888, p. 1, c. 3
Galveston, Galveston County, Texas

“Eleven Persons Perish”

“But Two Occupants of a Rockdale Hotel Saved”

“A Town Stricken with Grief Over the Result of a Disastrous and Most Fearful Fire – The People Burned – Details”

Rockdale, Tex., June 4 – Rockdale was stricken this morning at a little after 3 o’clock with a fire and holocaust so appalling and heart-rending that language is inadequate to describe the scene.

At the time stated the town was aroused by cries of fire and the discharge of firearms. The fire was discovered to have originated about the staircase in the office of the three-story brick building known as the Mundine hotel.

So terrible and rapid was the work of the flames that out of thirteen persons known to have been in the hotel, eleven perished.

The Victims.

Those known to have been lost are:

Mrs. W. A. Brooks, wife of the proprietor of the hotel, and her four sons aged 4, 6, 9 and 15 years respectively.

J. F. Briscoe, wife and two little children.

Isaac Crown.

A traveling sales man supposed from papers found to be named Pemberton Pierce. He was representing George Zeigler of Philadelphia, but the hotel register being lost there is nothing more with which to identify him.

D. M. Oldham, representing F. Cannon & Co. of Galveston, escaped without injury and Dr. W. A. Brooks, proprietor, was pulled by main force out of the room occupied by his family, he having reached the door. He resisted every effort to be saved before his wife and children and was carried down the rear staircase.

B. M. Oldham, who occupied an extreme southeast room in the second story, says he was awakened by a roaring, cracking sound. Thinking that a storm had arrived and was blowing the doors and window-blinds about, he soon detected smoke in his room, arose, went to the door and opened it only wide enough to see flames in the hall. Hastily closing the door he went to the window, threw clothing out on the wide veranda which surrounds the south and east side of the second story and from there to the ground. He then followed by sliding down one of the supports to the veranda.

Almost immediately after reaching the ground he saw the party supposed to be Pemberton Pierce rush out on the veranda all aflame and leap to the ground, striking on his head and killing him instantly.

Thus have perished two most estimable families, one of Rockdale’s promising young businessmen, Isaac Crown and a stranger whose sad fate will startle and grieve those to whom he was dear. J. F. Briscoe was for many years a barber at this place, thoroughly respected by everyone, and who by thrift and industry had risen to independence. He recently sold out his business here and opened the same line at Taylor, was married to a young and beautiful woman, who with her two little children had stopped over here, being en route to her girlhood’s home in Indiana. She was joined by her husband, who came in on the 11:30 train last night, only to share with his loved ones a horrible death.

Mrs. Brooks, who has bee identified with all that is good of Rockdale since its founding, was well and widely known by the traveling public, her husband and she always having kept the principal hotel.

Dr. Brooks is entirely dazed, crushed at heart and badly injured, but whether fatally or not cannot be determined, but it is thought he may recover.

Isaac Crown, the junior partner of the firm of I. Baum & Co., was about 30 years of age and unmarried. No citizen held a higher place in the esteem and confidence of all than did this young man.

The origin of the fire is yet a subject of conjecture. The hotel building was occupied on the first floor by the United States post office and the firm of T. B. Kemp & Co., general merchants, and from neither could anything be saved except such valuables as were contained in fire-proof safes.

Adjoining the hotel on the north was a one-story brick building owned by J. S. Perry & Co., occupied by J. R. Rowland for the storage of general merchandise, whose main stock was kept in the building adjoining, still on the north. The first named building was entirely consumed with its contents, and the last name is nearly destroyed, with the goods badly damaged.

Here the course of the fire was checked by the heroic efforts of the citizens, who worked with unceasing and fearless energy, unaided by organization of any kind and no conveniences for obtaining water.

All business here is entirely suspended and a gloom has been cast over Rockdale which cannot be removed for many a day.

The Losses.

The Mundine hotel building, which is about 10 years old, cost from first to last about $12,000, upon which there was but one policy of insurance of $1,200 in the Hartford, and no insurance on the furniture. The stock of merchandise of T. B. Kemp & Co. was insured for $3,000, also in the Hartford.

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Galveston Daily News, Wed., 6 June 1888, p. 5, c. 1
Galveston, Galveston County, Texas

“Desolation and Death”

“Rockdale Enshrouded with a Mantel of Gloom”

"The Earnings of Years Wiped Out and an Appalling Loss of Life – Description of the Hotel – Disposition of Charred Bodies”

Rockdale, June 4 – The work of desolation and death closes over one of the most peaceful and prosperous little towns in Texas, enshrouding it with a mantel of gloom too impenetrable for a stranger living beyond its borders to be able, however sympathetic, to even faintly appreciate. The loss of property, the earnings of years of hard work and close application falls heavy upon poor men, reduced late in life to begin the struggle new. But such considerations pale into absolute insignificance when contrasted with the appalling loss of life, wrought in a few brief moments in so awful a manner.

As has been stated, the Mundine hotel was a three-story brick structure about 60 x 80 feet in size, fronting on the south the International and Great Northern railroad, and on the east Main street, which is 100 feet wide.

The hotel was a perfect mass of windows with a veranda running its entire length on the south and east sides of the second story and a veranda in the third story, connected with alls running to the south and east sides. In addition to these there was another gallery at the extreme west side of the second story of the building, with steps leading to the ground. In the extreme southwest corner of the second story, opening on galleries both south and west, were the rooms occupied by Dr. W. A. Books, wife and four children. Next east of them on the same floor, opening on the south gallery, was the room occupied by J. F. Briscoe, wife and two children, next to which ran a cross hall, also leading to the south gallery. Still east, across the hall mentioned, was the room occupied by Pemberton Pierce and next, in the extreme southeast corner of the same floor was the room of Mr. Oldham, while directly above the latter, in the third story, was the room of Isaac Crown.

It almost surpasses human conception that in a building with such numerous avenues of egress that of thirteen people only two should have escaped. The only rational theory advanced is that the fire originated about the staircase in the first story, and a comparatively small space being open to the top of the house operated as a flue, filling the house with a volume of smoke so dense that the inmates were only awakened to suffer almost instant suffocation.

Little air was stirring during the course of the fire, in consequence of which there was no cause to prevent the entire house rapidly filling with smoke. Still it would seem that more than two should have escaped.

Before anyone was aroused or an alarm given the entire first story must have been a seething mass of flames, for in three minutes after Mr. Oldham, who gave the first alarm and descended by one of the upright supports of the south gallery had reached the ground flames burst forth from his room.

It is, alas! Too late to consider what might have been done had certain precautions been taken, but this town having enjoyed immunity from fires for many years perhaps engendered a feeling of security leading to some carelessness, not in the hotel management alone, but the citizens at large, which sooner or later was likely to lead to disaster. And how terrible has it fallen!

Messrs. Scarborough 7 Hicks have received the following telegrams:

Philadelphia, Pa., June 4 – See best undertaker and express body of Mr. Pierce in best shape possible to David Schuyler 7 Son, undertakers, Philadelphia. Express his effects to 904 Cherry street. George H. Ziegler.

Dr. W. A. Brooks, who was rescued while struggling to regain his family, is not seriously burned or injured, but is of course, terribly prostrated by the loss of his wife and four children.

He says that when he was awakened the room was full of smoke, that he rose quickly and reached a window, which he raised, by means of which he obtained a little fresh air and then went back for his family, groping in dense smoke. While doing this he heard the window fall, returned to it and smashed it with his fist and arm, was grabbed by someone and forcibly removed; after which his mind is clouded until he found himself in safety, just beginning to realize his awful loss.

To undertake to mention the names of any who signalized themselves by daring flames and smoke in their efforts to save life would be wrong, as the writer could not name them all. Suffice it to say that no means were left untried and, He who notes the humblest sparrow’s fall will bless the manly bravery and humane efforts of those who in these feeble lines are nameless.

Disposition of Bodies.

With every tender care possible the remains of the Brooks and Briscoe families, as near as they could be identified, charred and broken as they were, were placed in two separate coffins and interred in the Odd Fellows cemetery after funeral services at the Baptist church, under the auspices of the Odd Fellows and Knights and Ladies of Honor. The services were attended by almost the entire population of Rockdale.

The remains of Isaac Crown were also buried last yesterday afternoon in the Jewish cemetery, under the auspices of the Masonic fraternity.

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Galveston Daily News, Wed., 6 June 1888, p. 5, c. 1 & 2
Galveston, Galveston County, Texas

“Gloom at Taylor”

Taylor, June 4 – The news of the burning of the Mundine hotel yesterday morning at 4 a.m. cast a gloom over this city, as all parties are well known, three of them being here Sunday and left for Rockdale at 10 p.m. Frank Brisco, who is in business here, left at 10 p.m. to move his family here. He and wife and two children are among the victims. P. Pierce, a drummer and noted as a composer of music, attended church twice here on Sunday. He represented Ziegler & Co. of Philadelphia, and got several large orders for goods. A number of Taylor citizens have gone to Rockdale to render all assistance possible.

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Public Ledger, Tues., 5 June 1888, p. 1
Philadelphia, PA

“A Hotel Horror”

“A Texas Hotel Burned and Eleven Persons Perish in the Flames – A Philadelphian Among the Victims”

Rockdale, Texas, June 4th – This morning, a few minutes before 8 o’clock, the Mundine Hotel, a three-story brick building, was found to be on fire, and, according to those who were first on the ground, it was all on fire at once. Inside were 13 souls, only two of whom escaped alive. Dr. W. A. Brooks, the proprietor, was pulled out of the burning building with his hair and beard singed off and otherwise badly burned, laving behind him his wife and four children, who perished. Pemberton Pierce, representing the firm of George H. Zeigler, of Philadelphia, jumped form the burning building and was killed. D. M. Oldham, of Dallas, representing the firm of Fannon & Co., of Galveston, escaped, badly singed.

The mystery about the thing is that so many should have perished when none were high up than the second story and there were galleries and exits on the sides of the building.

No one was heard to call or scream, all dying without a cry for help, though a great crowd quickly gathered and exhausted every effort to afford a rescue. The remains of several have been removed from the ruins, but they are unrecognizable. A great pall rests over Rockdale and every business place is closed. Mr. Pierce is the only victim not a resident of Rockdale. The Mundine House was valued at $8,000 and was insured for $1,500. T. B. Kemp, whose store occupied a part of the building, was completely burned out. His loss is $5,000, insurance at $3,000. Joseph Rowland’s building was crushed by the falling walls of the hotel, but his stock was saved, though badly damaged. He is fully insured.

D. M. Oldham, one of the survivors, who occupied an extreme southeast room in the second story, says he was awakened by a roaring, crackling sound. He thought that a storm was raging, and that the window blinds were being blown about. He soon detected smoke, and arose and went to the door and opened it only wide enough to see flames in the hall. Hastily closing the door he went to the window, threw his clothing out on the wide veranda surrounding the south and east sides of the second story, and from there to the ground, and then followed by sliding down one of the supports of the veranda. Almost immediately after reaching the ground he saw a man, supposed to be Pemberton pierce, rush out on the veranda, all in flames, and leap to the ground, striking on his head and being instantly killed. Those known to have been lost are:

Mrs. W. A. Brooks, wife of the proprietor of the hotel, and her four sons, age 4, 6, 9, and 15 years, respectively; J. F. Brisco, wife and two little children, and Isaac Crown. A traveling salesman, supposed, from the papers found, to be Pemberton Pierce, representing the house of George Ziegler, of Philadelphia, is also among the lost. The hotel register being burned, there is nothing more with which to identify the remains.

The origin of the fire is as yet a subject of conjecture. The hotel building was occupied on the first floor by the United States post office and the firm of T. R. Kemp & Co., general merchants, and from neither could anything be saved except such valuables as were contained in the fire-proof safes. The fire was checked after it had consumed two small buildings, with their contents.

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Public Ledger, Fri., 8 June 1888, p. 2
Philadelphia, PA

“DIED”

Pemberton Pierce, of Philadelphia, at Rockdale, Texas on the 4th inst, in the 43d year of his age. Due notice of funeral will be given.

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Inquirer, Tues., June 5, 1888, p. 8
Philadelphia, PA

“Eleven Persons Perish”

“Burning of a Hotel at Rockdale, Texas, Yesterday Morning”

“Only Two of the Inmates Saved”

“Vain Efforts to Save the Others – Mystery Surrounding the Affair – Pemberton Pierce, of Philadelphia, a Victim”

Rockdale, Texas, June 4th – This morning, a few minutes before 8 o’clock, the Mundine Hotel, a three-story brick building, was found to be on fire, and, according to those who were first on the ground, it was all on fire at once. Inside were thirteen souls, only two of whom escaped alive. Dr. W. A. Brooks, the proprietor, was pulled out of the burning building with his hair and beard singed off and otherwise badly burned, laving behind him his wife and four children, who perished.

Pemberton Pierce, representing the firm of George H. Zeigler, of Philadelphia, jumped form the burning building and was killed. D. M. Oldham, of Dallas, representing the firm of Fannon & Co., of Galveston, escaped, badly singed.

The mystery about the thing is that so many should have perished when none were high up than the second story and there were galleries and exits on the sides of the building.

No one was heard to call or scream, all dying without a cry for help, though a great crowd quickly gathered and exhausted every effort to afford a rescue. The remains of several have been removed from the ruins, but they are unrecognizable. A great pall rests over Rockdale and every business place is closed. Mr. Pierce is the only victim not a resident of Rockdale.

The Mundine House was valued at $8,000 and was insured for $1,500. T. B. Kemp, whose store occupied a part of the building, was completely burned out. His loss is $5,000, insurance at $3,000. Joseph Rowland’s building was crushed by the falling walls of the hotel, but his stock was saved, though badly damaged. He is fully insured.

D. M. Oldham, one of the survivors, who occupied an extreme southeast room in the second story, says he was awakened by a roaring, crackling sound. He thought that a storm was raging, and that the window blinds were being blown down.

He soon detected smoke, and arose and went to the door and opened it only wide enough to see flames in the hall. Hastily closing the door he went to the window, threw his clothing out on the wide veranda surrounding the south and east sides of the second story, and from there to the ground, and then followed by sliding down one of the supports of the veranda. Almost immediately after reaching the ground he saw a man, supposed to be Pemberton pierce, rush out on the veranda, all in flames, and leap to the ground, striking on his head and being instantly killed. Those known to have been lost are:

Mrs. W. A. Brooks, wife of the proprietor of the hotel, and her four sons, age 4, 6, 9, and 15 years, respectively; J. F. Brisco, wife and two little children, and Isaac Crown.

A traveling salesman, supposed, from the papers found, to be Pemberton Pierce, representing the house of George Ziegler, of Philadelphia, is also among the lost. The hotel register being burned, there is nothing more with which to identify the remains.

The origin of the fire is as yet a subject of conjecture.

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Created on 15 Feb 2001 and last revised on 10 July 2003.