In the days and months that followed the March 15, 1916, fire in downtown Cape Girardeau, business men in town began demanding better, more modern firefighting equipment and prepared to clean up the mess left by the blaze.
No firm had a bigger chore of rebuilding than the Buckner-Ragsdale store.
Located in the L.B. Houck building at the southeast corner of Main Street and Broadway, the company lost everything to the hungry flames. What made it an even more bitter pill to swallow was the fact that the store was just completing a massive remodeling project.
Here are a few stories from The Daily Republican newspaper that told the story of that store's struggle to survive and re-invent itself. In an amazingly short time, Buckner-Ragsdale -- or Quality Corner, as its iconic sign proclaimed -- reopened at the same location in a brand new building in October 1916.
March 15, 1916.
BUCKNER-RAGSDALE STORE WOULD SOON HAVE BEEN MODEL OF BEAUTY
Contractors were just finishing remodeling and enlarging the place -- History of the concern `Buck' Ragsdale couldn't believe it.
The Buckner-Ragsdale store, which was a complete loss, not a piece of anything could be saved, would soon have been the most modern and beautiful retail store in all Southeast Missouri and there would have been few nicer ones in the entire state.
In order to keep up with the general trend of improvement in Cape Girardeau the owners decided to remodel the store completely, making it more attractive and larger. For nearly two months contractors had been at work and finishing touches were to have bee put on this week.
A new front was being put in, with large display windows on Main Street and Broadway. The ladies' department, which had occupied half of the east end of the building, had been extended to take in all that end and rows of new cabinets and much other fixtures had been added.
The alteration and tailoring department, which had taken up the other half of the east end, had been moved to four rooms on the second floor of the Houck building. A private stairway had been put in and the tailoring and fitting rooms were models of convenience.
On the men's side the tables of clothing had been taken out and a long row of new cabinets added to hold it. Special hat cabinets had also been put in place, as well as a center row of shelving to hold the furnishing goods.
The shoe department had been changed to give more room and still accommodate more shoes, and most of this work had been finished.
Mr. Lamkin, the manager, told The Republican Tuesday that he had bought fully 25 percent more goods this spring than last because than last because he believed there would be more business. At the time he was talking great piles of express and freight packages were standing everywhere waiting to be opened up. Several crates of men's hats had just been unpacked and were ready to be marked and put in the cabinets.
No doubt this was the largest and most expensive stock of merchandise ever destroyed by fire in South Missouri. Mr. Lamkin estimated the cost of the stock at $60,000 and it is doubtful if he had half that amount of insurance.
Buckner-Ragsdale store opened here in 1906.
W.B. Ragsdale came to Cape Girardeau in May 19067, and after spending half a day here "taking in the sights," decided to buy the E.W. Flentge store, at that time a general merchandise store occupying the Houck building. Mr. Ragsdale was sent here to look over the field by his uncle, C.M. Buckner, or Marshall, head of the Buckner-Ragsdale Company. At that time this company had three stores in different Missouri towns and Mr. Ragsdale was in charge of one at Centralia. It was supposed that Mr. Ragsdale would investigate conditions here and then report to his uncle, but he was so enthused over the conditions in Cape Girardeau that he bought the Flentge stock and then notified Mr. Buckner. Within a week the Buckner-Ragsdale Company was in charge of the Flentge stock, taking possession June 1, 1907, and since that time the business has grown remarkably.
The Cape store was the largest men's and women's ready-to-wear store in Missouri south of St. Louis, and enjoyed a tremendous business.
In 1910 Mr. Ragsdale, having married a Charleston girl, decided to open a store there. Mr. Lamkin took sole charge of the Cape store and Mr. Ragsdale went to Charleston to live and manage that store. Then in 1913 Mr. Ragsdale and Mr. Lamkin decided to place a B.-R. store in Sikeston, which is now under the management of Pen Parsons.
The Buckner-Ragsdale Company now has 10 stores in Missouril as follows: Buckner-Ragsdale Clothing Co., Cape Girardeau; Buckner-Ragsdale Merc. Co., Charleston; Buckner-Ragsdale Store Co., Sikeston; Ragsdale-Holmes Co., Centralia; Rose & Buckner, Marshall; Buckner & Land, Liberty; Parrish & Buckner, Norborne; Rose & Buckner Merc. Co., Slater; Rose & Buckner Co., Armstrong.
`Buck' Ragsdale couldn't imagine a total loss.
After the first excitement of the fire had died out Robert Lamkin called up W.B. Ragsdale, in Charleston. "The store has just burned and is a total loss," said Mr. Lamkin.
"Well, how much did you save," asked Mr. Ragsdale.
"Not a single thing."
"You don't mean to say that they didn't get anything out and that the building has actually fallen in?"
"It's even worse than that. There isn't a wall or anything left and no one even got there in time to break in a door or anything.
"Say, Bob; I'll come up on the first train."
"What's the use?"
March 17, 1916.
L.B. HOUCK WILL GET BUSY SOON
Reported that he will begin building immediately -- Prospects for new hotel.
The important question just now is, what is to become of the Houck corner at Broadway and Main Street?
A few hours after the building burned in the big fire Wednesday, L.B. Houck told The Republican he would put another building up right away, and that he was sure it would not burn down, because he would make it a modern, fire-proof structure.
Today, W.B. Ragsdale and Robert Lamkin told The Republican that they had talked to Mr. Houck about a new building, but had not gone into details with him. They were busy looking after their insurance affairs and arranging to settle with wholesale and manufacturing concerns from whom they had just received spring goods. Mr. Buckner is expected to arrive tonight and a conference will be held at once to determine what shall be done.
There are property owners in the downtown district who are talking of the advisability of petitioning the Frisco to buy the Houck property and using it for a site for the new passenger station. They claim that the recent flood proved that it would never do to locate the new depot at the corner of Main and Independence streets because the water frequently gets over that property.
A banker told The Republican this morning that he felt sure Mr. Houck would rebuild at once and that the Buckner-Ragsdale store would be located in it as usual.
New hotel in sight.
John M. Overstreet, trustee for the Van Frank estate, is expected here Monday. E.A. Allen, the landlord of the Riverview Hotel, says he expects to make arrangments for a fine new hotel building, which will enable him to have the best hotel in Southeast Missouri. He says he is in a position to make the trustee a proposition that would interest him. It will not be profitable to let the property remain idle to the taxation and therefore Mr. Allen expects to see work start on a new building before long.
While the bankers' prediction of a new Buckner-Ragsdale store rising from the ashes of the Houck Building at Main Street and Broadway came true, Mr. Allen's new hotel at the northwest corner of Broadway and Water Street was never built. Instead, a brick and stucco building housing "Daddy" Kain's restaurant was built over the Riverview's basement. It was later occupied by Cape Auto Glass Co. Buckner-Ragsdale Co. purchased the site in 1954 and had the building razed. A parking lot was then built for the exclusive use of Buckner-Ragsdale customers.
March 20, 1916.
BIG NEW STORE IS TO RISE NOW
Buckner-Ragsdale Store Co. coming stronger than ever now.
Buckner buys Houck site.
$10,000 the price paid -- Store to be opened at once in temporary quarters 'somewhere in Cape Girardeau.'
The first deal of any sort growing out of the big fire of last week looking to the rehabilitation of the district occurred this morning when L.B. Houck sold his corner property at Main and Broadway to C.M. Buckner for $10,000.
Leasing the site, the Buckner-Ragsdale Company will erect a two-story business and office building there just as rapidly as plans can be drawn and artisans can do the work. It will be a monument to the business district recently burned. As a friese running around the building where everybody may read isily will be the words:
"Died, March 14, the first section of eighteenth-century firetraps adorning the Main Street district."
Fire-proof this time.
A building that will not so easily burn will adorn the site and give the Buckner-Ragsdale Company the most splendid store in the state of its size. Part of the second floor will also be occupied by the store company, but several modern offices will be arranged there also.
The lot faces 47 feet on Main Street and on Water Street and runs 134 feet from Main to Water. Thje building will occupy the entire site and will be of some highly ornamental construction to make it one of the most imposing edifices in Cape Girardeau.
While the news that the concern is to re-establish itself and to occupy a magnificent new building is of much importance, many women in Cape Girardeau and the district generally will be pleased to hear that Buckner-Ragsdale Company contemplates starting up a store in temporary quarters just as soon as possible, in the next week to 10 days. "Somewhere in Cape Girardeau" was the only directions given out by Manager Lamkin today.
C.M. Buckner of Marshall, who bought the Houck lot today, was in Cape Girardeau to see the ruins of the store Friday and Saturday. It was the second time he had visited Cape Girardeau to take a look at burned property in which he had a large interest.
C.M. did the work.
"The next time you start up, you boys had better locate in a fire-proof building," he told Robert Lamkin and Buckner Ragsdale. Lamkin let go of a tear when he thought about this 10,000 just lost in the fire last week and Buck Ragsdale sniffled a little.
C.M. Cast a glance at them and then declared that they would hunt up L.B. Houck, buy his little old lot and build a house that wouldn't burn down for a few years at least. The deal went through this morning and Robert Lamkin was smiling from the anterior as well as forwards.
March 22, 1916
BUCKNER-RAGSDALE STORE OPEN AGAIN
Purchased stock across he street and are ready for business.
COMPLETE LINES READY SOON
Messrs. Ragsdale and Lamkin rush to market to buy spring and summer goods to keep regular business intact.
The Buckner-Ragsdale store is in business in Cape Girardeau again. It opened at 10 o'clock this morning and before noon had several customers.
Messrs. Ragsdale and Lamkin bought the stock of dry goods, shoes, furnishings, etc., from Houser & Caruthers, owners of the general stored at the northeast corner of Main and Broadway, directly across the street from the building that burned, and took possession at once. Within an hour after this transaction was made John Boss and Mrs. Gaines, two of the main clerks in the Buckner-Ragsdale store, were in charge and ready to wait on customers.
As the Buckner-Ragsdale store has never handled dry goods, the stock just purchased was sold to the Bergmann-Bartels Mercantile Company and will be moved to the store on Broadway. The Buckner-Ragsdale company will keep the furnishing goods and the shoes for men and women and will begin disposing of the stock at once at sale prices, as all this stuff must be cleared out for new goods.
It was necessary to buy this stock of goods to get the lease on the building. The Houser & Caruthers stock will be moved to the Cahoon building at the corner of Spanish and Grocery, where it will be continued as a grocery store.
After news stock.
Messrs. Ragsdale and Lamkin left on the afternoon train today for St. Louis and other markets to get a stock of goods just as soon as possible. Several wagon loads of goods that came in after the fire were delivered to the new place today and will be opened up at once. In this lot are many cases of shoes, the entire line of straw hats, many express packages of women's wear and miscellaneous goods of all kinds.
While it will not be an easy matter to buy spring and summer goods at this time, these merchants will go the limit in getting things because the regular business of the concern must not be allowede to die out.
Architects are now at work on plans for the new building. It will take until about April 15 before the contract can be let and then it will take four months at least before the store part can be ready for occupancy. During this time the store will be in business just across the street from its old stand and its trade will be maintained.
Messrs. Ragsdale and Lamkin have not decided definitely on the kind of building they will erect, but it will no doubt be a two-story fire-proof structure with the outer walls and trimming of terra cotta. No money will be spared to make it complete in every detail.
The Buckner-Ragsdale store quietly opened in its new quarters at the southeast corner of Main and Broadway on Saturday, Oct. 21, 1916.