03/07/11 511 W, 2 I - + 12 - 9 Weil's Department Store in Goldsboro, 1948 (Updated)

The News & Observer of February 10 and 11, 1948, tells more about this incident.The three-story building was the largest and oldest in Goldsboro. The fire started near a freight elevator on the second floor about 4:50 p.m. Employees and customers were safely evacuated. A “capacity crowd” at the presumably nearby Paramount Theater was evacuated within 10 minutes of the fire report.

“All available firefighting equipment” responded from Goldsboro, Wilson (26 miles), Kinston (27 miles), Mount Olive (15 miles), and Seymour Johnson Field (four miles). As a reader indicates, Faison (21 miles) also assisted. Distances from Google Maps. Also, observe the Mack quad in the picture, which was on the roster in Goldsboro in the 1920s.

The front wall of the building collapsed early in the evening. The intense heat broke 25 plate glass windows across Center Street, which was 250 feet wide. Crews worked to protect Goldsboro Book Store, which was located on the north side of Weil’s store. The building was built in 1865, and considered a landmark in town. 

Homer Ball / News & Observer photograph

The large amount of nitrate of soda stored in the store and the fear of explosion had police keeping spectators in a safe area. Not that you would notice from the above picture, that is. Water froze as it hit the building, with a stiff gale blowing out of the north threatening to spread the flames to other buildings. Four inches of snow had fallen when the fire broke out.

Mayor Scott Berkeley “took over the telephone” at the fire station (to dispatch?), so all firefighters could respond to the scene. The police chief ordered every officer to the scene, to assist the firemen, protect property, and keep the hundreds of spectators from “stepping on hot wires that were snapped by falling debris.”

Fire damage was confined to Weil’s and next-door Giddens Jewelry Store. Also damaged were Smith Hardware Store and Seymour Funeral Home, on a street in the rear of Weil’s. Flames damaged the roof of the funeral home. Crews used sledgehammers to get to the flames in the roof of the hardware store, adjoining the funeral home.

The fire was controlled in three hours. Damage was unofficially estimated at a million dollars. Only the elevator shaft remained standing the following more. Crews remained on scene all night, to prevent the spread of fire from the hot cinders being blown about by a stiff wind.

The north wall collapsed during the night, and brushed the back wall of the bookstore.

Two firefighters were injured. Lt. Lee Sanford of Goldsboro was treated at Goldsboro Hospital for shock and physical exhaustion, after falling at the scene at 11:40 p.m. Robert McCarter was treated at the fire station for shock and exposure and sent home.  

Also found for sale on eBay, a 1948 wire service photo of Weil's Department Store in Greensboro Goldsboro burning something fierce. Don't know the month or day. Looks like winter. Click to enlarge:

I remember the fire. I was 5 at the time and lived in Snow Hill, some 20 miles east of Goldsboro. We could see the glow in the sky from the fire. It was a BIG one.
BE - 03/04/11 - 12:11

Thanks BE. That corrects the location to Goldsboro, not Greensboro, as the eBay seller indicated. Google finds the date, February 9, 1948. http://www.waynecountyhistoricalnc.org/h..
Legeros - 03/04/11 - 19:15

Mike I have a letter from the mayor of Goldsboro thanking our department for our response despite the blinding snow and freezing temperatures, at that time I believe only Goldsboro, Mt. Olive and Fremont had fire departments in Wayne County. Our department had to travel approx 25 miles to assist.
car3550 - 03/05/11 - 13:58

Interesting, what department is yours? Mt. Olive?
Legeros - 03/05/11 - 17:58

car3550 - 03/05/11 - 23:55

I remember this fire quite well, although I was only six at the time. Snow, especially one as heavy as that on the ground the day of the fire, is quite rare in Goldsboro. My parents were worried sick that night because my sister, Erline, who was a senior at Goldsboro High School, had failed to return home by her curfew. (Not a wise idea at my house!) It turned out that she and many other people had formed a fire brigade to provide coffee to the firemen. As I recall, she was exempted from the punishment that normally would have followed her lateness.
Beverly Griffin (Email) - 10/14/13 - 10:00

I was 7 years old at the time and remember the fire was being broadcast over local radio station. I believe this was a live broadcast but I am not sure.
John Tew - 08/05/17 - 16:23

Remember personal info?

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