100 N. Tomahawk Avenue • P.O. Box 469• Tomahawk, WI 54487 • 715-453-8180

The Worst Fire in the City's History: The 1929 Mitchell Hotel

View of the Mitchell Hotel fire looking SW from the corner of North Tomahawk Avenue and West Somo.  The worst fire in the city's history was the Mitchell Hotel fire of March 6, 1929. First notice of the fire was received shortly before 1 p.m. and in the next three hours 19 buildings burned to the ground. Requests for assistance had been quickly sent to nearby fire departments in Wausau, Merrill and Phillips, but nearly impassable roads slowed their arrival. (A pumper was loaded on a flatcar at Wausau but was not sent) 

Merrill's pumper made it here at around 2 p.m. but broke down shortly after hooking up and had to be abandoned. The Phillips pumper and crew spent over two hours fighting their way through snow drifts, arriving shortly after 3 p.m. Their Seagrave pumper had an unheated, open cab design which made it necessary for them to change drivers every ten minutes just to stay warm.

View looking west across North Tomahawk Avenue from the alley between Wisconsin Avenue (main street) and Somo Avenue.  Splitting Merrill's crew and hose between them, the Tomahawk and Phillips firemen not only fought the fire, but also had to cope with low water pressure and the freezing of pumps, nozzles and hoses. A 6" water main feeding the Mitchell was broken when the hotel collapsed, resulting in a severe loss of water for firefighting. It was some time before a shut-off valve could be located and longer still before it could be approached. 

The heat from the burning hotel was so intense that the 10'x10' windows on the west side of the Standard Mercantile building shattered. High winds whipped the flames and glowing embers were spread onto roofs hundreds of feet away. The battle to save the Tomahawk Garage illustrates the struggle by the firefighters to hold their ground. Twelve times the roof caught fire and twelve times it was beaten back. Though the roof was lost, the building was saved and the fire was checked from spreading in that direction.

View looking NW from Wisconsin Avenue and Tomahawk Avenue (bank corner).  Attempting to halt the fire on the south side of Wisconsin Avenue, firefighters used dynamite to destroy the restaurant of Henry Meyer. Though the effort was not as effective as had been hoped, shortly afterwards the turning point was reached. Firefighters continued working through the night to keep the fires still burning in other buildings from spreading. By mid-morning of the following day it was over, with  the smoke and steam rising from the rubble covering the downtown like fog. Total losses were estimated at $243,500.

1929 Firefighters