A group of community members gathered Saturday, July 27 at Bostrom Park in Phillips, marking the 125th anniversary of the devastating fire that burned the little city nearly to the ground in 1894.
Standing in the warm summer sunshine under shady trees, the attendees were transported back to that terrible day by a variety of guest speakers, who shared the history of the fire and modern day perspectives.
Those who spoke included Phillips Mayor Charles Peterson, Village of Prentice president Bruce Jilka, Phillips Fire Chief Jim Pisca, local historian Therese Trojak, and Price County Board Chairman Bob Kopisch.
Although Price County is more than a century past the start of the fire, Kopisch pointed out that in many ways, there are ways in which the county has remained the same. Referencing the recent remodel project at the county Safety Building, however, Kopisch commented on the remarkable speed at which the city was rebuilt after the fire.
With support from communities all over the state, the city grew back from the ashes.
“You have to remember that not only the people that lived here were affected, but also those who shopped, worshiped, or worked here,” commented Phillips Area Chamber of Commerce director Laurie Hansen.
Both Pisca and Jilka — who have long served on the fire departments in Phillips and Prentice, respectively — figuratively tipped their hats to the fire crews of 1894, who, with limited equipment, fought the fire relentlessly on that fateful day.
The rebuilding of the Phillips community cannot just be credited to the people who resided within the little town, but all the surrounding communities which pitched in to help the town recover.
“What is really remarkable in this story is the spirit of unity, which I believe continues to this day,” said Jilka. “I hope to see us continue to grow and work together always, not just in disaster.”
Bells were rung 13 times in memory of those who lost their lives in the fire.
Perhaps the most anticipated segment of the event — the exhumation of a time capsule which was buried in the park 25 years ago — ended in disappointment. The capsule, which was opened at the conclusion of the ceremony, had degraded in the years it had waited underground and water had damaged the contents.
Apart from a few pencils and small items representing the local businesses of 1994, the paper contents of the capsule were saturated.
As of Monday, Hansen reported that the Chamber will be attempting to dry out and salvage those items. A new, hopefully sturdier, time capsule will be replaced in the park in the coming weeks.