The Madera county courthouse and jail
The Madera county courthouse and jail

When disaster struck on Christmas Eve, 1906

The new courthouse and jail were the pride of the county for a short while. Then disaster struck on Christmas Eve, 1906. Sometime in the afternoon of December 24, an arsonist broke into the courthouse and set a fire on the second story using kerosene and dirty rags. The granite, of course, did not burn, but the wooden furnishing and decor did. The blaze brought the entire town out and made it nearly impossible for the firemen to fight the blaze. One county supervisor who insisted on directing the firefighting effort was punched in the jaw by a fireman.

1906 courthouse fire
The 1906 courthouse fire

Once the Christmas Eve fire in the Madera County Courthouse started, most Maderans simply stood helplessly by and watched it burn. This photograph shows the top floor ablaze.

The Courthouse Ruins
The courthouse ruins

On Christmas morning, 1906, when Maderans would have normally been opening gifts, crowds streamed by to discover the courthouse in ruins. The tower and large portions of the second floor were gone. In their place, naked steel girders stood as a grim reminder that not everyone in town was civic-minded.

water wagon near the courthouse

It did not take long to rebuild the courthouse and outfit it with a new clock tower. Nor did much time elapse before William King Heiskell laid our Courthouse Park. Some of these young striplings are still standing and provide shade for the numerous activities held in the park. The water wagon was in constant demand to keep down the dust since Madera had no paved roads at the time.

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