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Almost Yesterday is a glimpse into the rich history of our region. Dr. Frank Nickell takes listeners on a journey to specific moments in time, such as the first radio broadcast on KFVS, the history of Farmington’s Carleton College, and the short-lived safari on a Mississippi River island. A gifted storyteller and local historian, Dr. Nickell’s wit and love for the past are combined with sounds and music that augment his narrative.On Saturday, June 7, 2008, Almost Yesterday received First Place in the "Special Programs" category at the Missouri Broadcasters Association Awards Banquet in Kansas City, Missouri.Almost Yesterday airs every Wednesday at 5:42 and 7:42 a.m. and 5:18 p.m.

Almost Yesterday: The Great Fire of 1916

Southeast Missouri State University

It seems like Almost Yesterday that the most destructive fire in the history of Cape Girardeau destroyed much of the town's downtown district. The fire began in the early morning of March 15, 1916, apparently in the basement of the Houck Building on the corner of Main and Broadway.

Once underway the flames spread rapidly to the recently remodeled Buckner-Ragsdale Store and the five-story Terminal Hotel, both adjacent to the Houck Building. A millinery store and a saloon in the same block were also razed. The flames were so intense that they soon spread across Broadway to the prominent Riverview Hotel, and a second saloon.

An estimate of the damage done by the fire put the dollar value at over $200,000.00, which in modern terms would be several times the 1916 amount.

By the time the guests were alerted at the Terminal Hotel, black smoke filled the hallways, and flames were spreading up the outside walls of the building. Guests at the hotel had little time to gather belongings, most fleeing in their night clothes or early morning dresses.

Evacuation was more calm and orderly at the large Riverview Hotel as the guests were notified while the fire was still across Broadway.

The Cape Girardeau Fire Department rushed from its Independence Street headquarters and were on the site fighting the fire within twenty minutes, but had little impact upon the large and growing fire.

The fire burned for approximately five hours,coming to an end around noon.

Fortunately no lives were lost to the flames, but downtown Cape Girardeau was significantly changed. The great fire of 1916 burned itself into the history of Cape Girardeau - and is remembered as if it was almost yesterday.

Frank Nickell is a retired history professor at Southeast Missouri State University.
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