Registered: Apr 99
posted 12-17-2011 12:38 AM
Daily Alta California
3 February 1869
THE GREAT FIRE IN PHILADELPHIAFrom the Philadelphia Press, January 15th 1869
The most destructive fire which has occurred in this city for probably ten or twelve years, last night consumed the block of marble stores at the southwest corner of Ninth and Chestnut Streets. They were new structures, spacious and elegant, three in number. That at the corner was occupied by the firm of Howell & Brothers, paper-hanger; the next by James E. Caldwell & Co., jewelers; the third by the firm of J. F. & E. B. Orne, carpet dealers.
At 1 o'clock this morning an explosion was heard by officers, in Caldwell's jewelry store. At the time various were the surmises as to the origin, but it had been ascertained that the boilers in the basement of the jewelry store, which are used for warming the building, and were placed there for the express purpose of avoiding the danger from fires, exploded, scattering the burning coals over the entire floor.
This store, the center one of the three at the corner of Chestnut and Ninth Streets, is like the others, of brick, running back to Sansom street, having a two-story front on this street, and a four-story marble front on Chestnut street. The building was filled with the finest of jewelry, diamonds, articles of vertu and bijoutrie, the stock being a very heavy one. Of this the more valuable portion, consisting of precious stones and fine gold ornaments, was in the huge fire-proof safe, while in the cases $250,000 worth of jewelry was stored. Upon arriving at the scene the firemen experienced some delay in getting streams upon the flames, the iron shutters to the doors and windows barring them out. These being raised, every effort was made to save the stock. Special men were detailed to carry the cases of rich jewelry into the adjoining buildings, and before even this could be fully completed the heavy timbers and cornices, broken and burned by the flames, fell, filling the place so densely with suffocating smoke as to prevent the men from entering. The building No. 902 (occupied by Caldwell & Co.) was owned by Win. C. Houston. It cost, when built, $58,000.
Messrs. Caldwell & Co. had four large safes in their establishment. Two of these safes were in the front part of the store, and contained all the gold watches and diamonds. The safes were all found in good condition this morning. The value of the stock of the firm which was outside of the safes is estimated at $250,000.
The corner store was owned by Mr. George Howell. It cost $83,000. and was insured for $40,000.
Messrs. Howell & Brothers, the occupants, on hand a very large stock of paper of all kinds. The spring stock had only been placed in the building within a short time. Everything in the building was destroyed. The stock was valued at upward of $200,000.
The stock of Messrs. J. F. & E. B. Orne, carpet dealers, was valued at $125,000 on the 1st inst. The entire stock was damaged by water.At about 12:30 o'clock the neighborhood was perfectly quiet, and very few people were in the street. Suddenly a loud hissing sound was heard, and in a few moments was followed by four or five slight reports. Then there was a grand crash, and the explosion shook the sidewalks. The force of the explosion was so great that the roar door of Howell & Bros. Store was blown off, and the ceiling at the rear of the store of the Messrs. Orr was greatly injured. The last report was followed by the crushing of glass, and then flames burst from the rear of the basement of Caldwell's building, where a Harrison boiler of ten horse power and the heating apparatus were located. As the Harrison boiler is considered the safest of all steam generators, and was, in this case, run at very low pressure, it is difficult to explain how the explosion could have proceeded from that source.Last night six men employed in the establishment were asleep in the store of Messrs. Caldwoll & Co. They were Frederick A. Davis, cashier; Charles Hardy, C. Gadney King, Edward Hagan, salesmen; James Andrews, porter, and James F. Polk. All were on the first floor— some being front and others back. Soon after the explosions were heard and the flames broke out, four of the young men, Messrs. Davis, Hardy, King and Andrews, made their appearance at the front second-story window, got out upon the ledge and worked their way along to the front of Orne's store. They then culled for help, and the Washington Hose Company put up a ladder and the men were taken down. All were more or less injured. Messrs. Davis and Hardy were taken to the Continental Hotel. Mr. King was taken to the Markoe House. Mr. Andrews was taken to the Girard House, and after having his injuries attended to by Dr. Morehouse, was removed to the Pennsylvania Hospital by Fire Marshal Blackburn and others. Both feet are burned and he has inhaled smoke. His injuries are serious, but are not considered fatal. Messrs. Hagan and Polk have not been heard of. They got separated from the others as they were making their way to the staircase loading to the upper part of the building. Mr. Andrews says that when he last saw Hagan he had fallen down near the front door. Both men are supposed to have perished. Hagan was from Providence, R. I , and has been in the employ of the firm between two and three years. Mr. Polk was from Winchester, Va., and had been connected with the establishment about a year. Neither was married.
DANGER TO NEIGHBORING BUILDINGSFor some time the Continental Hotel was considered in imminent danger, and at first there was a great panic among the guests. The house is well provided with its own fire apparatus, which was immediately brought into requisition, and contributed largely in saving the building. When the conflagration was at its height, the flames shot high into the air across Chestnut street, over the top of the buildings on the opposite side, but these houses being low escaped. From Howell's building myriads of sparks wore emitted, and were carried for several squares in a northeasterly direction. Large pieces of burning paper fell in the streets and on the roofs of houses, and in some instances continued to burn for several minutes. At this time the heavens were lighted up, and the scene was magnificent in the extreme.
SUMMARY OF OF LOSSES AND INSURANCESThe following is a summary of the insurances on, and the estimated value of the property destroyed :
Sufferers. Value. Insurance.
W.C. Houston $58,000 $50,000
J. E. Caldwell $250,000 $136,000
George Howell $83,000 $40,000
Howell & Bro $225.000 $105,000
Benj. Orne $60,000 $54,000
J. F. & E. B. Orne $125,000 $225,000
Totals $801,000 $610,000