SOME GREAT FIRES.
FIRE and pestilence, storm and flood have ruled since the time when order was evolved from “ancient chaos.” In fact, without the aid of fireand water,the world as it now is would not have been. These, Nature’s fires, do not enter into the purview of the present article, which has to do with such fires as are due to accident or to human agency. An exhaustive account—even an exhaustive list would be impossible. A selection is all that can be attempted, and that only of a few, the preference, for obvious reasons, being given to older American fires, and a beginning made with New York, where, severaltimes within the last century, the fire department of the period had to fight what were then looked upon as great conflagrations. Of foreign fires the chief space is given to those which happened in London, the present centre of fire-interest.
In New York, in the year 1776, during the Revolutionary war, one fire wrought great destruction, the Trinity church of that day being among the buildings consumed. This fire began in a house on Whitehall slip, on the night of September 20, 1776. There were few people in this part of the city at the time, and fire soon raged exceedingly. It burned all the houses on the east side of the Whitehall slip and the west side of Broad street to Beaver street. Then the wind veered from the southwest to the southeast. This carried the flames to the westward, and burned both sides of Beaver street to the east side of Broadway; then crossed Broadway to Beaver lane, and, burning all the houses on both sides of Broadway with some few houses in New street, to Rector street, and to John Harrison’s three-story brick house, which house stopped the fire on the east side of Broadway; thence it continued burning all the houses in Lombard street, and those in the rear of the houses on the west side of Broadway to St. Paul’s church; then continued burning the houses on both sides of Partition street; and all the houses on the rear (again) of the west side of Broadway to the North River. The fire did not stop till it got into Mortkile street, now Barclay street. The college yard and the vacant ground in the rear of the same put an end to this tremendous lire. About the burning of Trinity church, David Grim says :
“ Trinity Church being burned was occasioned by the flakes of fire that fell on the south side of the roof. The southerly wind fanned these flakes of fire in a short time to an amazing blaze, and it soon became out of human power to extinguish the same, the roof of this noble edifice being so steep that no person could go on it.”
The roof of St. Paul’s church being flat, a number of citizens got upon itand extinguished the flying braodsas they alighted. In a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. O’Beirne at St. Paul’s church immediately after the fire, he says that a “ thousand houses, about one quarter of the city, have been destroyed.” The loss of Trinity Church corporation alone was about $15,000. Col. Reed of the Continental army, writing from Harlem I Icights to his wife on September 22, 1776, says. “ The night before last there was a most dreadful fire in the city, but how it happened we are quite at a loss. There was a resolve in Congress against our injuring it, so that we neither set it on fire nor made any preparations for the purpose, though I make no doubt it will be charged to us?”
Gen. Washington, in a letter to Gov. Trumbull, says he has no knowledge of the cause of the fire. I le notes the execution of his countrymen alleged to have been caught in the act of incendiarism, but makes no comment. A British officer present at the time says many Americans were caught starting fires, and that the ” enraged soldiery …. threw them into the midst of those flames which they had kindled for the destruction of others.”
Gov. Tryon was inclined to blame Washington for the tire, “ as he sent all the bells of the churches out of town under pretence of casting them into cannon, whereas it is much more probable to prevent the alarm being given by ringing of the bells before the fire should get ahead beyond the reach of the engines and buckets— besides, some officers of his army were found concealed in the city, supposed for this devilish purpose.”
The American soldiers believed that some of the English army set fire to the city. They had been promised the plunder cf the city and had been kept from it, though the Hessians plundered all the time. An American officer wrote from Harlem, September 25, 1776:
“The Hessians are continually plundering, and are discountenanced by their general, and Gen. Howe dares not puvish them for fear of producing a general mutiny.”
In 177® New Y’ork had another great fire, which consumed nearly a hundred houses ami stores. On this occasion the military took the exclusive management. This arrangement acted so badly that the commander-in-chief afterwards ordered that in the future the military should help, but not order. In 1804 occurred a fire which swept the whole block from the west side of Coffee House slip in Water street, to the next door to Gouverneur’s lane, and all the buildings in Front street to the water were swept away on that side of the slip: and the fire crossed Wall street and destroyed the buildings on the east side of the slip. Among the buildings destroyed were the old t offee House and several brick stores but ivost of the buildings were of wood, and their destruction caused the immediate erection of new and fire-proof edifices of brick. Over $2 000,000 worth of property was destroyed, h was supposed, by reason of letters received by a merchant, that this fire was the work of eleven combined incendiaries. They were never detected.
In 1811 there was a great fire in Chatham street. It did much damage and would have destroyed the old Brick church, but for the intrepidity of a sailor, who climbed up the steeple, while a prisoner on the limits performed a like service for the jail, the cupola of which was on fire. Both men were liberally rewarded.
All previous conflagrations were eclipsed in 1835. This fire broke out in the premises of Messrs. Comstock & Andrews, No. 25 Merchant street, and in a short time raged with such intensity as to defy the exertions of the firemen and others who hastened to the spot for the purposes of staying
its ravages. The night was intensely cold, the thermometer being at or below zero. This, it may easily be supposed, greatly paralysed the exertions of the firemen. They also could get little water. The fire spread quickly, gathering the Merchants’ Exchange and the Reformed Dutch church in its arms. After it had laid a large part of the city in ruins, it was finally stopped by blowing up several buildings. The Courier and Inquirer appearing the day after the fire, said:
“ South Street is burned down from Wall Street to Coenties Slip, Front Street is burned down from Wall to Coenties Slip. Pearl Street is burned down from Wall Street to Coenties Alley, and was there stopped bv blowing up a building. Stone Street is burned down from William Street to No. 32 on the one side and No. 30 on the other. Beaver Stseet is burned down half way to Broad Street. 1‘xchange Place is burned down from Hanover Street to within three doors of Broad Street; here the flames were stopped by blowing lip a house. William Street is burned down from Wall Street to South Street, both sides of the way. market house down. Wall Street is burned down on the south side from William to South Street, with the exception of Nos. 51-61. All the streets and alleys within the above limits have been destroyed “
The following vs ill be found a tolerably accurate statement of the number of houses and stores then leveled with the ground.
Twenty-six on Wall Street, 79 on Pearl Street. 37 on South Street. 76 on Water Street, 80 on Front Street, 16 on Hanover Street. 62 on Exchange Place. 31 on Exchange Street. 44 on William Street. 33 on Old Slip, 16 on Coenties Street. 30 on Stone Street.3 on Hanover Square, 2300 Beaver Street. 20 on Gouverneur’s Lane, 10 on Jones’s Lane, 20 on Cuyler’s Alley. 3S on Mill Street. Total, 674.”
Such was the violence of the gale that blew while this fire raged that embers were carried to Brooklyn,where they started fires, which were, however, speedily extinguished.
In 1845 there was another great fire in New York city. It broke out on July 19, and burned 345 buildings, wnich, with their contents, were valued at $5,000,000.
Subsequent fires of more modern date need not be recapitulated here.
Boston was several times badly swept by fire during the Revolutionary war, and within the last decade or two has suffered, perhaps, as severely as any city on this continent, Chicago alone excepted.
Pittsburgh, Pa., besides its fire-losses during the great railroad strike of nearly twenty years ago, had the lower portion of the city blotted out by a fire in 1845—the blaze speedily passing beyond the control of the defective apparatus then employedOn this occasion there were 1,100 buildings burned, whose value was $10,000,000.
In 1838 Charleston, S. C., was swept by a fire. It is esti mated that on this occasion 1,158 buildings were destroyed whose value was $3,000,000.
In 1866 Portland, Me., suffered from a great fire,which destroyed over hall the buildings in the city and occasioned a loss of $11,000,000.
The Chicago fire of 1871, whether considered with regard 10 the area of land coveredt the dumber of lives lost, or value of the property destroyed, ranks as the greatest of history. Over 18,000 buildings were destroyed, of which 2,400 were stores, shops or factories, and about 100,000 people were rendered homeless by the burning of their houses. The district over which the conflagration swept was 3 3-4 miles in length by more than 1 mile wide, covering the most densely peopled portion of the city. It is said that 250 lives were lost by accidents during progress of the fire, and the total value of the property destroyed was estimated at $102,000,000, this estimate not including over §4,000,000 allowed for salvage on foundations and the like.
Outside of this continent excavations made on the site of Nineveh prove that the city was burned and then deserted by the inhabitants, who were probably deported after the last great siege.
In 1842 Hamburg was burned; 4.219 buildings were destroyed, their estimated value being $35,000,000; 100 lives were lost by falling walls and similar accidents.
Jerusalem has been partly or wholly burned seventeen times, each great conflagration being kindled when the city was taken by a besieging force.
Rome was more than once a prey to flames, from before the days of Nero, who fiddled as he watched the devastating pro. gressof the fire which he himself had kindled, to the ravages inflicted on the city in medieval times thioigh fcieigr :r.d domestic foe.
Paris shows records of fierce fires from the Merovingian days down to those of the Commune, when enemies at home proved crueler than the invading Germans and kindled a fire which ranks with one of the fiercest of modern times.
[Old London was especially devastated by fires,and new Ix>ndon has had many similar experiences. The following are among the most noticeable of these conflagrations.
In A. D. 982, two-thirds of the existing city was destroyed, followed in 1086 by another that swept the city from east to west. The end of the London bridge abutting on the Surrey (Southwark) side of the river Thames, caught fire and, while crowded with spectators, the Middlesex side shared the same fate, numbers of people perishing either by fire or by water. In the reign of Charles II. 1666, the Great Fire of London destroyed 13,200 houses; considerably over 80 churches—among them Old St. Paul’s, the Royal Exchange, the Custom House. the Guildhall, Sion College, the city gates, and many other historical buildings. The fire burned for over three days.and desolated 436 acres of ground. In 1748 in the ward of Cornhill over 200 houses were burned, and in 1795 St. Pauls church, Covent Garden, in whose belfry was the clock made by Richard Harris in 1641, said to have been the first longpenaulumed clock ever manufactured in Europe. A very noted fire was that in 1834 by which the two houses of Parliament at Westminster were destroyed,through the burning by order of the State of the thousands of wooden tally-sticks (no longer used by the court of Exchequer) stored within the building. In this fire Westminster hall with itsold Norman wooden roof was barely saved from destruction. In 1838 the Royal Exchange, whose predecessor, nearly 200 years ago, had bc n burned in the Great Fire of London, shared the same fate, and three years afterwards occurred the conflagration in the lower of London, which destroyed the Round Tower aid the Armory, with all their valuable relics in the shape of arms, armor, etc. As the Jewel tower seemed on the point of catching, the Crown jewels and regalia were removed till all danger had passed over. Of more modern fires was that blaze in Tooley street on the Surrey side of the river, just below London bridge,where Superintendent Braidwood was killed,which continued burning for one month, destroying valuable wharf and other property,and costing the owners millions of dollars. Since that have occurred the Wood street fire, (December 8. 1882) , which caused a loss of $5,000,000; the Queen Victoria street fire. December 30, 1890,which,like the fire at Tooley street, required the services of over 20 land and several floating engines before it was extinguished; the several incendiary fires at Whiteley’s mammoth emporiums in Westbourne Grove; the destructive fire at the Pantechnicon storage warehouse in Belgravia; and the recent fierce fire at Meaux’s brewery,Oxford street and Tottonham Court road corner.
When the Russians evacuated Moscow in 1812, the czar ordered the city to be fired and a large number of convicts were pardoned and released from the jails on condition that they would do the work of setting fire to the houses. It was well done the entire city being reduced to ruins on September 13, and the eight following days, and the destruction of property estimated to exceed $150,000,000.
At Duluth. Minn., the city council has passed an ordinance providing for the issuance of 30-year 5 per cent, bonds for the sum of $1,106,000, for the construction of the independent water plant. Bids will be asked for at once.