Fire at the Frank C. Ball Home
“A most heartbreaking thing happened this evening,” wrote Rosemary Ball Bracken in her diary entry of Tuesday, February 28, 1967. That event was the fire that destroyed Rosemary’s childhood home.
Rosemary’s parents, Frank and Bessie Ball, built their home on land overlooking the White River in 1894. According to The Morning News of June 27, 1894, “’Minnetrista’ is the name chosen for Ball Bros. tract of land on Riverside. The name means ‘winding waters’ and as the property is situated on the bend of the river the title is very appropriate.” The colonial style house of frame construction had 19 rooms. In 1902, the house was faced with Indiana limestone, and six columns were added to the front portico. After Bessie Ball’s death in 1944, the house was used as student housing. In the late 1960s, Applegate Advertising Agency had offices in the house.
The fire was discovered that night by graphic artist Ron Groves. He was working at his drawing board when he heard a noise that sounded like “someone raffling through their desk.” When he checked on the source of the noise, he discovered flames coming from a wall in the reception area of the advertising agency. Groves called the fire department, and then went for water to douse the flames. When he realized that the fire was already too intense, he left the building.
According to fireman Hurley Goodall, “… we had finished supper, washed the dishes and some members of the department were watching T.V., some were playing ping pong in the basement, and some were playing cards. It was a little after 8 P.M. when the first call came in.” The first trucks arrived on the scene within five minutes of the call. Goodall was the tillerman on the ladder truck.
As the firefighters arrived, so did members of the Ball family. Rosemary and her husband Alex watched the fire from the garage. Edmund F. Ball and his son, Robert were there, as were Margaret Ball Petty and Rosemary and Alex’s son, Frank. Rowland Webb, who had cared for the orchard and the gardens at the house for many years, was there. All watched as the flames destroyed the home.
In the meantime, the firefighters entered the smoke-filled house and went to the basement. They thought that they had extinguished the fire near the furnace “until someone said ‘there is fire in the walls.’” The inside of the walls was covered by rough hewn lumber, and when the firefighters tried to cut through, their axes bounced off of the walls. At that point, the district chief called in a second alarm. The firefighters outside the house set up the 100’ aerial truck to get water on the flames coming through the roof. Unfortunately, they only had one tool that could cut through the copper covering of the roof and none that could penetrate the stone walls.
At 9:06 p.m., all off-duty firefighters were called in to help fight the fire. Units from Gaston, Cowan and Yorktown were called in to staff the Muncie stations.
The next day, as the fire still smoldered, Rosemary and Alex Bracken walked the site of her childhood home. Rosemary said that it was “…a sickening sight…. Still smoking and smoldering in house…. Not much left of old part.”
When the fire was finally under control, the firefighters tried to lower the aerial ladder but because it was frozen, couldn’t lower it completely. It was driven back to the station for thawing, as was all the hose used to fight the fire. According to Hurley Goodall, the temperature at the time the alarm was given was 10 degrees, and it grew colder and windier as the night progressed.
Seven pieces of equipment were used to fight the fire, and more than 50 firefighters battled the blaze. Three were slightly injured. Goodall said, “Tuesday night, February 28, 1967 would prove to be one of the most difficult and most frustrating nights of my firefighting career. As Muncie lost one of its landmarks we could see the flames and could not get to them to put it out.”