The Murdock Hotel Fire

Published June 29, 2023

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The Murdock Hotel Fire
April 18, 1948
Shawano, Wisconsin

The Murdock Hotel, built in 1887, was one the most prominent buildings in Shawano, standing on the southwest corner of Main and Green Bay Streets until 1848 when it was consumed by fire.  The demise of the Murdock Hotel changed the face of downtown Shawano.   We have three newspaper articles listed below that outline the history, importance of the hotel, and the fire.


The Murdock Hotel was built by Henry Murdock in 1887, replacing the old Wescott House, Shawano’s first hotel, which stood on the same corner. The old Wescott House was moved off the property and the new Murdock Hotel built. 

Mr. Murdock, who was Earl Murdock’s grandfather, owned the hotel for a few years and then it came into the possession of C. M. Upham. Mr. Upham then rented the hotel to Byron Garfield. After Garfield, thee hotel was operated by Chris Hill and then Ira Bean. In 1912 Harry Sanderson rented the hotel and later purchased it from the Upham family. Mr. Sanderson operated the Murdock for about 23 years. During that time, he had improved and enlarged its facilities. The family kept living quarters in the hotel for many years. In the part now taken by the Keenway Store, the Hub, ran by August Cattau, operated.

In 1935 Mr. Sanderson leased the hotel to a Chicago Hotel concern. They operated until 1939 when Stanley Tischer and Clarence Haupt took over the management of the hotel. It was then completely redecorated and remodeled. A beautiful cocktail I lounge was installed in the hotel and larger quarters were allotted to the main lounge. Mr. Haupt was in charge of the cocktail lounge while Mr. Tischer assumed the manager-ship of the hotel.

The Murdock was the weekly meeting place of the Rotary and Shawano Clubs and here many business concerns held their luncheon and dinner meetings. It was also the city bus stop and here many of the local teachers took their meals.
The whole interior is a loss but the outside brick walls still stand. to make way for a new structure. The hotel site is one of the most valuable along Main Street, ideally suited for a hotel. The property is owned by the Sanderson children, John, of Friendship; Alice of Chicago; and Ruth, Mrs. Pope, of Mont-ford, Wisconsin.

For 38 years Clarence Parkhill, who was an uncle of the late Mrs. Harry Sanderson, has been night clerk at the hotel. To him the fire is a personal loss for he has, throughout those years, never known another place of employment or a place of residence. He is 68 years old.


Murdock Hotel In Ruins Following Disastrous Fire

The Murdock Hotel, historic land-mark, was completely gutted by fire Sunday, leaving Shawano with only one main hotel to care for its large influx of tourist and vacation guests for the summer. The loss is estimated at over $90,000 with about $35,000 insurance coverage.

The fire brought between three and four thousand people to Shawano Sunday afternoon, who watched the fire from sections roped off on Main and Green Bay streets.

The fire broke out about 1:45 Sunday afternoon. Miss Betty Sperberg, desk clerk, was on duty and turned in the alarm when she noticed smoke coming up from the basement. There were only a few persons in the lobby. The dining room was closed as the Murdock did not serve meals on Sunday. When firemen arrived, the whole basement was aflame and fire had already worked up between the walls. Only a few articles were saved including the cash register. Clarence Parkhill, night clerk at the Murdock for 38 years, was asleep in his room on the top floor. He was notified immediately as were other guests in the hotel. There were about fifteen people in the building when fire broke out.

Fire Chief George Frank, sensing that the department had a big job on its hands, asked for more sup-port. Mayor H. HI. Meyer called for assistance from the Bonduel Fire Department and the Clintonville Fire Department. They were on the job within a short time. Water was pumped continuously from the time of the fire until well past six o’clock. The whole interior was either burned out or damaged by water and smoke.

The dining room and cocktail lounge are entirely caved in while the fire bored a huge hole in the floor of the second story.
Guests were able to salvage some of their clothing but much of it was soiled by smoke and water.

Over fifty volunteer firemen augmented the regular fire crews, working throughout the afternoon and evening. Even former fire chief Charles Klebesadel was on the job.

Fire Chief George Frank worked tirelessly and through his efforts and good judgment the fire was kept from sweeping to other buildings. He gave credit to the Bonduel Fire Department and the Clintonville Fire Department for their invaluable assistance. The fire chief was once overcome by the fumes and also suffered a severe cut on the hand. Another fireman from Bonduel, a Mr. Morgan, received a bad cut from falling glass.

Everyone pitched in to do what he could to prevent further loss. This was the most destructive fire here since St. James Lutheran church was destroyed by fire in 1941. Insurance adjusters are now going over the loss.

Mr. Tischer and Mr. Haupt have not as yet made known their future plans. However, it is assumed that every effort will be made to erect a new hotel here but just what avenue will be pursued is yet to be determined.

Loss of the Murdock Hotel is a severe blow to the city of Shawano for Shawano needed its accommodations especially for the next four months when hundreds of folks come to visit this vacationland.


Murdock Hotel fire changed Shawano

At the busy intersection of familiar Main and Green Bay Streets in Shawano, there was the Murdock Hotel and three other established and respected businesses – Shawano National Bank, Farmers Hardware Store, and the Cities Service station.

The Sunday afternoon of April 18, 1948, marked an historic change in the established way of Main Street, for that was the day of the fabled Murdock Hotel fire.

The Murdock fire was an event that changed the ways of Main Street in Shawano and the entire community, too.
In her history of Shawano, “Grandma’s Footprints,” Ila Hill Moede recalls the Murdock Hotel as an important link to the community outside Shawano, for not only did guests find a welcome, clean place to stay, but stagecoach lines, and in later years cab service, all operated out of the Murdock. It burned down in 1948 after a succession of owners.”

The Murdock Hotel’s original traces to 1886, when Henry Murdock began work on his new hotel,” it is recorded. It was established on the site of the of Wescott House, which had been disassembled to make room for Murdocks new project, described upon completion as one of the neatest hotels in norther Wisconsin. On May 15, 1889, in what without flattery to the proprietor, we can say it is one of the most neatly furnished hotels in northern Wisconsin,” The Shawano County Journal said.

The newspaper of the day reported the Murdock opening to be one of the grandest events Shawano has ever witnessed. The place was beautifully and tastefully decorated and illuminated from top to bottom.” The importance of the new hotel became all the greater when in May 1890, a fire swept through the Jennings House, which had been the leading hotel prior to the Murdock’s ascendency. Shortly thereafter, Henry Murdock sold his new hotel to Charles M. Upham, who leased it to Christopher Hill and Mr. Hill took charge as manager. Mr. Hill established the Shawano post office in the hotel and was the postmasters.

Later Charles Dillett became the Shawano postmaster and he moved the post office to another location, it is recorded.
Landlord Murdock purchased pool and billiard tables to provide recreation and entertainment, for the hotel’s guests, prior to selling to Mr. Upham.

The Murdock House opening of 1889 was recorded as a social and economic event of paramount significance for the Shawano community and for the occasion Christopher Hill, schools Superintendent L.D. Roberts, M.J. Wallrich, F.W. Humphrey and other shared toasts and accolades. The praise bestowed on Mr. and Mrs. Murdock by Chris Hill, was heartily endorsed by the cheers of everyone in the rooms,” it was reported. Many of the guests in attendance came from abroad” from Ripon, Clintonville, and Marinette. Three hundred invitations had been issued for the banquet and ball, under auspices of the Business Men’s Association
The menu?

The Murdock House opening night dinner featured a selection perhaps unequaled in its day. Some years ago, Curt Black, Shawano horseman and bank president, chanced upon the menu and we found the meal contained six kinds of meats 11 types of cake, jellies, hand cranked ice cream, fruits and relishes, Vienna bread. Curt received this menu sheet from a relative living in San Diego, Calif., and he turned it over to the Shawano County Historical Society.
Chris Hill was succeeded as manager of the Murdock Hotel by Byron Garfield and Ira Bean and in 1912, Harry Sanderson, acquired the leasing right. Several years later Sanderson purchased the building from Mr. Upham for $22,500 and operated it until the 1930s. Thereafter, management passed through several hands until Stan Tischer acquired it in 1939. Tischer operated the business until the historic fire of April 1948. Tischer made many changes, including remodeling of the lobby into a modern cocktail lounge run by Bud Haupt, beginning in 1939. It is recorded that the growth of bus lines and taxi service were closely associated with Tischer’s operation of the business.

Finally, it-is recorded, on the afternoon of April 18,1948, came the fire which wrote finis to the Murdock, Today, Shawano historic Main and Green Bay Streets intersection is graced by the standing bank, M & I Bank, plus Warren, Nett Real Estate to the immediate south and two significant Memorial and historic corners to the east that bear the names of donors and businesses which have contributed to the attractiveness of Shawano’s downtown.