An 1835 fire burns a quarter of New York City

GreatfirebynicolinocalyoIt started on the frigid night of December 16. Flames broke out inside a warehouse on Pearl Street, the center of New York’s dry-goods district.

“The city’s undermanned volunteer fire brigades rushed to the scene, but what little water could be pumped from the nearby hydrants turned to ice in the frigid night air, and the crews—exhausted from fighting a blaze the night before—were soon completely overwhelmed,” wrote Ric Burns and James Sanders in New York: An Illustrated History.

[Above: the fire as seen from Williamsburg, by Nicolino Calyo]

With help from strong winds, flames leaped from shops to warehouses to the majestic Merchants Exchange (below, in a 1909 illustration).

Within hours, 20 blocks and 600 buildings bounded by South, Broad, and Wall Streets and Coenties Slip, were ablaze.

Greatfiremerchantsexchange

New York had experienced devastating fires before, particularly in 1776. This fire was something else though—so intense, it could reportedly be seen from Philadelphia.

The cold made it tough to get under control. “Whiskey was poured into boots to prevent [firefighters'] toes from icing up,” states Paul Hashagen in Fire Department, City of New York.

GreatfireCUNYmap“By the time the flames were out, a quarter of the city’s business district had been destroyed, including every one of the stone Dutch houses that had survived the fires of the Revolution,” wrote Burns and Sanders.

Hundreds of businesses were ruined. Most of the city’s insurance companies went bankrupt. Amazingly, only two people perished.

As horrific as it was, the Great Fire of 1835 had a few upsides. It forced the city, which rebuilt within a year, to organize a professional fire department and shore up building codes.

And it showed the need for a modern water-supply system, resulting in the opening of the Croton Aqueduct and reservoir on 42nd Street seven years later.

[Map of the destroyed area: CUNY]

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

10 Responses to “An 1835 fire burns a quarter of New York City”

  1. Artnoize Says:

    There are 2 Water Streets in Manhattan…..
    The first is In the Financial District, and the other one in the Lower East Side….How did that happen?

    • Edward Says:

      Really only one Water Street that’s broken up into three sections actually. Construction of Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges and their approach ramps, and later razing of streets to build housing projects along East River, caused Water Street to stop and start in three different sections. Pretty sure the numbering system remains sequential (ie: the building numbers don’t begin at “1″ for each section of Water Street).

  2. rocco dormarunno(akafivepointsguy) Says:

    Many historians claim that this fire was a contributing factor to the U.S. fiscal Panic of 1837. Considering roughly $20 million in losses were caused by the hungry fire, it must have had some effect on the national economy.

  3. Edward Says:

    “A quarter of the city’s business district [was] destroyed, including every one of the stone Dutch houses that had survived the fires of the Revolution…”

    For a student of Dutch NY history, that part always breaks my heart. Not one trace of our Dutch forefathers in all of Lower Manhattan survives.

    • Upstate Ellen Says:

      And I always thought the old Dutch buildings were willfully demolished or allowed to decay… I never realized they were destroyed in a fire!

  4. wildnewyork Says:

    I hear you. Not one!

  5. EV Grieve Etc.: Mourning Edition « NYC Real Estate News Says:

    [...] When a lot of NYC burned down (Ephemeral New York) [...]

  6. chas Says:

    So was the cause ever determined?

  7. mcheshire Says:

    Reblogged this on CROTON  |  History & Mysteries and commented:
    Here is an account of the devastating New York City fire of 1835 that led to the construction of the Croton Dam and Aqueduct.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,421 other followers

%d bloggers like this: