The second terrible fire in downtown Oberlin happened on May 6, 1886. This fire destroyed several buildings at the corner of West College and South Main. Because this intersection was important in the development of Oberlin’s businesses community, I want to talk some about what was here before the fire.
In the fall of 1833 Oberlin Collegiate Institute built Oberlin Hall, a 30 x 40 foot frame two-story building, with a third floor added later. As the first College building it was used as a boarding hall and chapel, with recitation rooms, offices, professor residences, AND accommodation for 40 students. In 1854, 21 years after construction, Mr. John D. Carpenter purchased the building for commercial use. Behind the Hall was Oberlin Barn, sold and moved in 1850. At the corner of College and Main was the Kinney Block, built in 1852 by George Kinney. And between the two buildings was the Fitch Building, built in 1859 as Mr. Fitch’s bookstore. Interestingly, in April, one month before the fire the local electorate by a vote of 100 to 437 approved a $50,000 bond for construction of a water works plant. One of the major arguments for the water works was the need for modern fire protection system. The local newspaper, however, had opposed passage of the bond issue, stating that the "bucket brigade" was more efficient than high-pressure hydrants.