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John N. Thomson was 10 years old when the 1871 fire destroyed the east side of Monmouth’s public square. Years later, he painted from memory this view of the blaze, which today hangs in the Monmouth Fire Department’s North Station 1. The view is from the southeast corner of the public square looking north. A photograph of the painting was used as advertising by a local insurance company in the early 20th century.

‘Great Monmouth Fire’ preceded famous Chicago blaze by months

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A diagram of the burned district was published in the Monmouth Atlas shortly after the fire. Buildings numbered in large bold type were brick, while the other buildings were made of wood. Building 33 was Churchill’s Hall, where the fire was stopped by its slate roof.
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This post-fire photograph was taken from approximately where the fire started — the northwest corner of North First Street and East Broadway. Looking southwest, it shows the buildings that were spared on the south side of the public square.

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Editor and historian for Monmouth College. Avid researcher of western Illinois history for 40 years. FB and Twitter. jrankin@monmouthcollege.edu

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