At the start of the 20th century, Buford was an up-and-coming city with a bustling business district along Main Street. Thanks to being an important stop along, what was then the Southern Railway (formerly the Atlanta and Richmond Airline), Buford rose to prominence, which attracted new residents and new businesses. A devastating fire destroyed much of Main Street in 1903 and forever changed the streetscape.

Newspapers all over the State of Georgia mentioned the fire that occurred on Oct. 14, 1903.  The most detailed account of the fire appeared in the Oct. 15, 1903, edition of The News-Herald based out of Lawrenceville. 

According to the article published in The News-Herald, the blaze broke out in Seal’s Meat Market at 4 a.m. An hour and ten minutes later, the fire had run its course, and the damages were assessed. Nine buildings along Main Street were destroyed, with damages estimated at $50,000 or close to $1.6 million today, and only a portion of the damages was covered by insurance. 

Despite the best efforts from locals, the fire consumed everything from “Shadburn Banking Company to Lovie Sudderth’s two-story brick store.” After the fire was noticed, John Rowe, a partner of G. H. Gage at the foundry jumped into action utilizing a water tank with a water pump that was installed by G.H. Gage in front of the foundry. He fired up the engine on the water pump, secured a rubber hose to it, and began spraying water onto the blaze. Citizens also attempted to help fight the fire using mop buckets full of water.

Miss Lizzie Hamilton, the postmistress of seven years saved the mail and other government supplies belonging to the post office. At that time, the post office was located inside Weaver’s drugstore. The post office would relocate to the Shadburn Banking building where it operated until 1910.

The buildings along Main Street in 1903, were predominantly constructed of wood, with only the Bank of Buford building and the Shadburn and Brogdon building having been constructed of brick instead of wood.

The News-Herald listed the losses as follows:

  • George L. Brogdon’s storehouse, $2,500; with $1,500 covered by insurance
  • John. T. Smith’s storehouse, $800; no insurance 
  • J. B. McBreyer’s storehouse, $1,000; no insurance
  • Bank of Buford, $2,500; with $1,250 covered by insurance
  • R. H. Allen’s storehouse, $1,000; with $500 covered by insurance
  • Dr. W. J. Rowe’s storehouse, $800; no insurance
  • J. Martin’s storehouse, $800; no insurance
  • C. H. Smith, Sr.’s storehouse, $500; no insurance
  • E. V. W. McHaffey, merchandise, $1,000; no insurance

Other losses mentioned were goods including a stock of burial caskets totaling $28,500 with only $3,500 of the losses covered by insurance.

Following the fire, the buildings were quickly reconstructed, but instead of wooden-framed buildings, the businesses used brick.  The brick construction was deemed safer and more visually appealing.  These brick buildings along Buford’s Main Street remain to this day, and as in 1903, the buildings are home to thriving businesses.

Featured photo: A photo of the original article titled, “Nine of Buford’s Buildings Burned,” originally published in the October 15, 1903 edition of The News-Herald. Newspaper from Galileo, Georgia’s Virtual Library with the University of Georgia.

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