Austin man tries to fight flames after his 154-year-old home catches fire

The fire early Thursday at the landmark Seth P. Warner House in the 600 block of North Central Avenue was mostly confined to the attic, the homeowner said.

SHARE Austin man tries to fight flames after his 154-year-old home catches fire
Jim Bowers, the owner of the Seth P. Warner House in the 600 block of North Central Avenue in the Austin neighborhood, speaks to insurance agents after the house caught fire early Thursday, June 15, 2023. The home, which was designated landmark status in 2022, is the oldest home in the Austin neighborhood, according to the city.

Jim Bowers, the owner of the Seth P. Warner House in the 600 block of North Central Avenue in the Austin neighborhood, speaks to insurance agents after the house caught fire early Thursday, June 15, 2023. The home, which was designated landmark status in 2022, is the oldest home in the Austin neighborhood, according to the city.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The owner of one of the city’s oldest homes jumped into action when a fire started early Thursday in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side.

Jim Bowers, who tried to extinguish the flames on his own with a fire extinguisher before firefighters got there, said the blaze was mostly confined to the attic of the home known as the Seth P. Warner House in the 600 block of North Central Avenue about 1 a.m.

“My wife woke me up after she smelled the smoke, and I went up and tried to fight the fire myself before the firefighters got there,” Bowers told the Sun-Times.

A firefighter was transported to a nearby hospital for evaluation in good condition, officials said. There were no other injuries reported.

The cause was not immediately known.

Bowers, a civil rights attorney, was attracted to the house and the neighborhood and moved in 40 years ago. His law practice is also based in Austin.

“I loved the neighborhood and the house and the chance to help break down racial barriers,” Bowers said.

The house, built two years before the Great Chicago Fire, has been a hotel, a music school and then back to a single-family home over the years, Bowers said.

Restoring and maintaining the house is a constant labor of love, as it is for the other houses on the street. Many of Bowers’ neighbors on the block also have homes from the late 1800s.

The Seth Warner House, which was designated landmark status just last year, is one of the oldest structures in the city and the oldest home in Austin. The house was built in 1869 by Seth P. Warner, one of Chicago’s earliest settlers, who was a blacksmith, abolitionist and patron of the arts, according to city officials.

merlin_114073582.jpg

The Seth P. Warner House, pictured after a fire Thursday, was designated a landmark in 2022. It’s the oldest home in the Austin neighborhood, according to the city.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The smell of smoke and blast of sirens alerted neighbors to Thursday’s blaze. Mary, who lives two doors away from Bowers, sat on her porch till 2:30 a.m. watching the firefighters work. She declined to give her last name.

It’s a tight-knit community, said Jill Dougherty, who lives next door to Bowers. Dougherty has lived in her house, which was built in 1895, for 15 years.

Bowers’ neighbors spoke fondly of him and his commitment to maintaining the house. Mary, who has lived in the neighborhood for 60 years, said her grandkids used to go over and sit on his porch swing.

“We all look out for each other,” Mary said. “We all try our best to keep up these old, beautiful homes.”

The Seth P. Warner House, in the 600 block of North Central Avenue in the Austin neighborhood, caught fire early Thursday morning.

The Seth P. Warner House, in the 600 block of North Central Avenue in the Austin neighborhood, caught fire early Thursday morning.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The Latest
A zesty marinade and creamy tzatziki do the heavy lifting in this recipe, infusing the chicken with juicy flavor, lemony citrus and a kick of spice.
The boy was shot twice in the thigh and was hospitalized in critical condition.
The Black Ensemble Theater’s production showcases a crop of talented actors, vocalists and musicians, but a fleshed-out plot would really make the musical sing.
Tom Hardy, Austin Butler, Jodie Comer star in drama with the look of ‘60s and ‘70s indie films.
Violence intervention programs are fairly new and though few have been tested, some show promise. We’re hopeful that expanding community programs in Humboldt Park, Garfield Park, Austin and Little Village can curb shootings and save lives.