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A Firebug Bit Provo in 1878

Abraham O. Smoot and William Paxman became business partners in 1870 and established a lumberyard on what is now the northwest corner of University Avenue and 600 South. The business sold lumber, hay, and coal.

David John replaced William Paxman as Smoot’s partner in 1878. Smoot, John & Company made wooden doors, window sashes, and moldings as well as running a lumberyard.

On the night of March 28, 1878, men who were passing by the business noticed fires burning at both ends of a shed that was full of dry lumber. Since Provo had no fire department, volunteers fought the fire with buckets of water. They also hauled some lumber and shingles out of harm’s way.

The partners, who carried no insurance, lost about $2,300 worth of lumber and manufactured goods. They suspected that an arsonist had set the fire.

Another mysterious fire broke out in Provo’s Gardeners’ Exchange Building shortly afterward on the night of April 8, and spread to an adjacent building on Main Street (now University Avenue). It caused $5,000 worth of damages. This blaze also appeared to be the work of an arsonist. Men searched the neighborhood and found coal oil and other combustibles prepared for the flames in a nearby store.

These fires so close together prompted the Salt Lake Tribune to comment, “These incendiary fires are becoming common.” The fires and further evidence of a pyromaniac in the area aroused the people of Provo. Mayor Smoot, whose lumberyard had burned down, and the Provo City Council took rapid action in April. They authorized the organization of citizen groups to patrol the streets at night and watch for any questionable activity.

After the vigilante patrols began, the suspicious fires ended. Apparently, the firebug took flight in search of more combustible materials.

This plaque is located along the Provo River Trail at the trailhead on Boat Harbor Drive and is #43 in the “One in a Series of Events from Provo’s History” series.