Fireside Reading

By John M. Malecky

The Great Paterson Fire of 1902:
The Story of New Jersey’s Biggest Blaze

By Glenn P. Corbett

Available from the Web site: www.greatpatersonfire

Price: (NJ residents) $25.70 (includes tax and shipping)
Out-of-state customers use Web site.
Those without Internet access can call (201) 652-9224

145 pages, soft cover

I almost feel a little sheltered! Paterson is roughly 25 miles from where I live, and I never knew about this fire from history. Of course, I was nowhere near being born at the time it happened … my parents weren’t even born yet!

The author’s parents had lived in Paterson for many years, and he has always had an interest in the history of the city. So in the year of the 100th anniversary of the fire, it seemed appropriate to come out with this book which, as you will see, required alot of research to put together.

The fire started early one frigid morning in trolley car sheds. The wind was kicking up into gale force, and the rest is history.

There are five chapters: Paterson, The Silk City, The Great Fire Is Ignited, The Fire in Sandy Hill, Amongst the Ruins, and Paterson Will Take Care of Her Own. As you can imagine, the city as well as the fire has been well covered. The book is loaded with pictures and photos. The chapters are broken up into episodes, and the book is very easy to read. There are pictures of many of the buildings and how they looked prior to the fire as well as brief stories about the history of some of the businesses within. Although there are no photos of the actual fire in progress, there are some pictures of smoldering ruins as well as the aftermath. Some of these same buildings that were used as “before” shots can be seen destroyed or partly destroyed after the conflagration. Before the book ends, a subsequent chapter shows the rebuilding of the city with some of the same buildings and their new look.

Human interest also has a part in the book, with accounts of people and their experiences during and after the fire. Fire department operations are adequately explained along with stories of mutual-aid companies. You may be surprised at what fire departments came in on mutual aid.

There are two color street maps showing the extent of what burned in the fire. A separate section of Paterson known as Sandy Hill also suffered destruction; details on that fire are also covered. The number of buildings destroyed are listed in small print on five pages along with the locations of each.

I do not believe I will see a more detailed account of the city of Paterson before, during, and after the fire. This is a book not only for history buffs but for anyone with an interest in great fires of the past.

John M. Malecky is a 32-year veteran of the Bayonne (NJ) Fire Department and battalion chief with Battalion 2. He joined the department in 1970 and was named a lieutenant in 1987, a captain in 1994, and a battalion chief in 2000. He is author of the Apparatus Deliveries feature in Fire Engineering.

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