Fire activity doubled in 1920 with three big fires occurring in the first three months. While the city normally faced maybe 10-12 fire events a year, there were 20 fires in this start to the new decade.
At the time, fire department boasted one motorized chemical engine and the “Joe Naper” hand pumper in addition to the traditional bucket brigades. Naperville’s fire department was established in 1874 when there was no city-wide electricity or water and sewer system and not even a street numbering system for addresses.
These improvements, however, were in place by the early 1900s. The city also purchased a 1916 International Chemical Engine, the first that wasn’t powered by a team of horses. The chemicals in the Chemical Engine were a soda-acid combination that helped propel water onto a fire.
According to records, most of the fires that year were related to chimneys, perhaps due to an exceptionally cold winter, but of note were three major fires. The main infirmary at the Edward Tuberculosis Sanitarium burned in February, which was listed in the log as due to crossed wires. Personnel tried to save the recently-installed x-ray machine, but unfortunately they couldn’t drag it far enough away from the falling debris. In early March, there was a fire in a factory on the Hunt Estate and a second fire mid-month at the Judge Goodwin mansion known as Heatherton.
While these three fires caused a total of $1.75 million worth of damages, no lives were lost – at least not in the fires. Judge Goodwin died in Chicago on the same night that his home burned down and there has been plenty of speculation about that coincidence. A Fire and Water Engineering book from that year says the fire is “believed to be incendiary.” One rumor suggests that the Judge’s servant was instructed to destroy Mrs. Goodwin’s inheritance once she was widowed. The Heatherton property was eventually purchased by North Central College with financial assistance from Peter Kroehler and is currently home to the fieldhouse.