Burglary, fire in 1912 Jamestown

Investigators were called in the next morning.

JSSP Keith Norman Column Sig

It was a relatively small crime that came close to burning down at least part of downtown Jamestown 110 years ago in May 1912.

Three men, noted as “well known characters of Jamestown” according to The Jamestown Alert, decided to liberate some of the medicinal alcohol kept in the basement of the Wonnenberg & Avis Drug Store. The drug store was near the Gladstone Hotel of the time.

The basement of the drug store connected to the basement of Halstead’s Pool Hall and Bottling Works. Halstead bottled soft drinks for his customers back in that era.

One of the thieves had formerly worked for Halstead and still had a key which allowed them to enter the basements for their crime.

Evidently, the drug store bought its medicinal alcohol in bulk.


“While pouring alcohol from a 10 gallon can it seems that one of the men dropped a burning match,” wrote the Alert. “The inflatable fluid quickly ignited and in the scramble the big can overturned, pouring part of the contents on the floor and the flames spread.”

Evidently, medicinal alcohol was quite strong back in 1912.

We have to give our burglars some credit here; instead of running, they put out the fire after what the newspaper called a “desperate fight.” The articles also said the fire could have destroyed the Gladstone Hotel and the entire block.

Investigators were called in the next morning and started by contacting doctors in Jamestown to see if they had treated anyone for burns overnight. As luck would have it, one man had been treated and was soon in custody. When questioned, he named his two accomplices.

At the home of one of the alleged burglars, officers found a couple of gallons of strong alcohol and some candy, also stolen from the drug store basement.

The crime occurred about May 8 with the trial set for the June court term. One of the three made bail while the other two were held for trial.

On June 27, those two pleaded guilty to “burglary in the third degree” and were sentenced to “remain in the sheriff’s care until they secure employment.”

Basically, they were sentenced to time served and would be released as soon as they got a job.


The third of our burglars may have fled as there are no newspaper accounts of him going to trial.

I would guess the supply of medicinal alcohol was better secured in the future.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at

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