The Great Conflagration!

1844 fire

On April 13th, 1844 the Commercial Advertiser republished an article from an extra printed on the previous Tuesday that B.S. Hawley’s store was destroyed on the night on April 8th. The article is as follows…

” Between 11 and 12 o’clock last night, our citizens were aroused from their beds by a tremendous and deafening explosion, following immediately by the ringing of bells and the appalling cry of FIRE! in every direction. We were among the number who hastened to the spot, but we had scarcely emerged into the street before the flames burst forth from the windows and roof of the buildings with the frightful rapacity. We could not, certainly, ascertain how the fire originated, but the current belief obtains that it broke out in the Drug Store owned by Mr. B.S. Hawley, in the row of large brick stores on Water Street, between Panton and Centre Streets. The drug store, with its entire contents (except Mr. Hawley’s book-safe), were destroyed. All the stock, accounts, clothing &c. of Messrs. Whitmarsh and Richardson, dealers in groceries, in the same building, and nearly the entire stock of Messrs. Avery & Jones in the adjoining buildings were also consumed. The contents of the law office of G.S. Hawkins, Esq. over the store of Avery & Jones were saved by the intrepid exertions of several citizens, who periled their lived by entering through the windows, amidst the flames and dense volumes of smoke, to save all in their power. Mr. Hawley’s iron chest was drawn out from admist the cracking flames and falling timbers; by means of a long fire-hook; the bookks and papers, although somewhat defaced, were still sufficiently legible to be read. The books &c. of Mr. C. S. Tomlinson, who had an office in the building, as also the bedding and wardrobe, with some money, belonging to Mr. Jesse Lee- a clerk employed in the store of D.B. Wood & Co., and who had a lodging room over Whitmarsh & Richardson’s -were likewise destroyed. Three or four other individuals are also sufferers to a partial extent.

Through the intrepid exertions of our firemen, aided by many of the citizens, the devouring element was prevented from extending to the adjoining buildings; and, providentially, there was little or no wind astir at the time, or there is no telling the extent of the destruction which must have ensued, as, besides other combustible material, there are from six to seven thousand bales of Cotton lying on our wharves. -Our citizens are yet busy, reclaiming all they can from the smoldering ruins, and we cannot correctly ascertain on whom the heaviest loss will fall, but we hear it stated that the loss to the Georgia Insurance CO. will fall little short of 13 or 14,000 dollars.

Mr. Hawley, we understand, who, with the Trustees of the Life and Trust Bank, owned the building he occupied, was insured to the amount of $4,000 on the house, and $5,000 on the contents.

The other buildings belonged to Messrs. J. Lahens & Co. of New York, which was insured to the amount of $4,000. The amount of insurance on the stock of Messrs. Avery & Jones is $6,000, which will not cover their loss. – Messrs. Whitmarsh & Richardson lost everything – stock of goods, clothing, bedding and furniture, and some money – believed to be about $5,000 – and no insurance. The loss in the custom-house will be trifling. The books and records were saved, but the Collector, Mr. Nourse, will be a loser, by the destruction of furniture, desks and stationary, to the amount of $150. The whole amount of loss is probably about $20,000, about two-thirds of which will be covered by insurance. A number of merchants in the same block have met with considerable loss. In the panic, almost everything was removed to the streets, into other stores, and some on board the steamers and vessels lying at the wharves. Some of the goods were lost, some broken, defaced, or damaged by water, some mislaid, and, we are sorry to add, many stolen. Many of the citizens were up all night, and, notwithstanding their vigilance, a quantity of the goods were carried off or concealed. Early this morning several thefts were discovered, and some of the perpetrators found out and taken into custody; one of them, in the very face of the proofs of his guilt, braved the law and its agents, and fought manfully until overpowered, tied and carried off to prison.

Great credit is due to the management, activity and intrepidity of our Fire Company. The alarm was hardly give before the engine was at work, and would have succeeded in extinguishing the fire before the second building caught, if they could have had a full supply of water on the opposite side of the building. Another engine of the same force would have been sufficient to save the second building, and immense loss in removals, breakage and thefts. A quantity of cotton in store near the fire was all rolled out into the street and on the wharves-none, we believe, was lost: one bale took fire, but a bucket of water timely dashed upon it prevented the fire from spreading. Some of the alcohol, and other liquors in the burning buildings, found its way through the sewers, leading into the river, in a state of combustion, presenting the awful and novel spectacle of a sheet of water on fire.”

As you can see, the Fire of 1844 was quite the event!

(The picture above is not of Apalachicola. It is just used to represent the amount of loss taken by the fire and the citizens aid to extinguish the fire.)

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