Then, on the morning of St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1937, someone in the building noticed smoke. Just after 9 am, word ran through the offices that there was a fire in the west stockroom where countless books and printing supplies were stored. Employees scramble to put the fire out with fire extinguishers, but the blaze had a good hold. Flames roared in a flash up the wall and into the second-floor offices.
There wasn’t even time to close the office safes before employees were forced to escaped through fire and smoke down the back stairs.
The head of the offset printing department on the east side of the building, G.H. Spurgeon, grabbed three expensive camera lenses before jumping through a window. Other employees scrambled to get equipment out, including two small lithographic presses.
A stroke of luck protected many of the company’s records. One of the office safes, door open, crashed through the weakened floor of the building. The door slammed shut when it landed, saving the contents.
The fire did not reach the basement but, the water firefighters used to quench the blaze cascaded into the $50,000 worth of school supplies stored there, ruining them.
The second edition of Fisher’s Idaho Guide was under production at the time of the fire. About 15 minutes before the alarm sounded a truckload of pictures left the lithographic department and went to the bindery room where they were destroyed.
Annuals for Northwest Nazarene college, Gooding College, the University of Idaho southern branch (now ISU), the College of Idaho, and Albion State Normal School, along with those of seven area high schools were under production at the time. The fire got them all.
Many books under production were also destroyed, but the owners and staff of the publishing company showed a remarkable resilience. As the sun was setting on the day of the fire—the largest in Caldwell history at that time—crews were working on various projects at other nearby printing companies. A meeting of the board of directors took place that same night to select equipment to be shipped in for a new plant. Orders for the equipment went out the next day.
Caxton Printers and Publishing erected a much larger building and kept one of the most famous publishing houses in the West alive. It still thrives in Caldwell today.
Why did J.H. Gipson choose to call his printing company Caxton? A man by the name of William Caxton produced the first book printed in English. That was in 1473 in Bruges, Belgium. In 1476 he was the first to bring a press to England, his home country. The first book he printed was a version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. A.E. Gipson borrowed not only the name, but William Caxton’s printers mark (below) which is used to this day on Caxton’s books to honor that early printer.
For more on the history of Caxton Press, watch Idaho Experience on Idaho Public Television December 5. Here’s a link to a preview.