Portland, ME Fire, Jul 1866 - Terrible Conflagration

Terrible Conflagration in Portland, Me.

Half of the City Destroyed by Fire!




PORTLAND, July 4.---A terrible fire is here, having destroyed Brown's sugar house, and is sweeping through the city before a strong southerly wind.


8 P. M.---The fire caught in the building above the sugar house on Commercial street, and has swept northerly through Fore street into the wooden buildings between Center and Cross streets, consuming everything as it goes. J. B. Brown & Sons from $600,000 to $700,000. Insured $20,000. Staples & Son, machine shop and R. P. Richardson & Co.'s stove foundry are completely destroyed. One steam engine had come from Saco.


PORTLAND, July 5.----The fire has swept completely through the city from the foot of High street to North street on Munjoy Hill, destroying everything in its track so completely that the lines of the streets can hardly be traced, and a space of 1½ miles long by a quarter of a mile wide appears like a forest of chimneys with fragments of walls attached to them.

The wind was blowing a gale from the South and a tremendous sheet of flame swept along before it devouring everything in its passage, and the uttermost exertions of the firemen aided by steamers and hand engines from several other places could only succeed in preventing it from spreading in new directions, many buildings, perhaps 50, were blown up, to check the flames.

The inhabitants could scarcely do more than flee with their families to the upper part of the city, saving such goods as they could carry, though every vehicle in the city was employed with excellent effect in moving goods. The Custom House being fire-proof, escaped, though greatly damaged, and the Court records in the upper story were probably destroyed. The splendid city and county building on Congress street, which was nearly fire proof, was considered safe and it was piled full of furniture by the neighboring residents, and then swept away with all of its contents.

Half the city is destroyed, and that half includes nearly all the business portion, except the heavy business houses on Commercial street.

The fire commenced a little below the foot of High street in a boat shop. Upham's flouring mill was next burnt, then Brown's sugar house with all its surroundings, then Staple & Sons and Richardson's foundries, and nothing else on Commercial street of consequence.

It next swept what is called Gorham's corner, composed of small buildings, up as far as the old Varnum House on Pleasant street, one third the way up Centre street, half way up Cotton street, completely up Cross street, Union street, Temple street, Pleasant street, Exchange street.

It swept down on the Northerly side of Forest street to India on the East, while on the West it moved along diagonally across Middle street and down to Cumberland, taking the Elm House, but sparing the First Parish.----Then from Chesnut to North street it made a clean sweep to Congress street, and everything else to Forest street as far as East as India street.

All the banks are gone, all the newspapers, all but three printing offices, all the jewellers[sic], all the wholesale dry goods stores, several churches, the telegraph offices, nearly as stationers and the majority of nearly all the business places. The fire is still raging below Commercial street, making back to the west ward, the wind having changed.

Davis, Baxton & Co., in Free street block, wholesale fancy articles, loss $25,000, fully insured at the Etna, of Hartford, and Hampden of Springfield.

Capt. Inman has telegraphed for 1500 tents to accomodate[sic] the homeless inhabitants.

Will give you the names and loss as soon as they can be ascertained. It is almost impossible to tell where people kept, the ruin is so complete.

A depatch[sic] from the Mayor of Portland to the Mayor of Boston says;----"Thousands of our citizens are houseless and hungry in the streets. Can you send us some bread and cooked provisions?"

Vermont Journal, Windsor, VT 7 Jul 1866


One of the buildings burnt was the Natural History society rooms, on Congress street, with its valuable scientific stores. Five churches at least are burnt, including the Baptist on Federal street, three on Congress street, and the Roman Catholic bishop's house with the church adjoining. The second Unitarian, formerly Rev. Horatio Stebbins', was saved, as was also the United States Hotel. The hotels destroyed are the Elm, Sturtevant, Kingsbury International (owned by F. O. J. Smith,) and Wood's marble unfinished hotel. Of the buildings burnt, many were costly residences, while there are other buildings intermingled in the business section that were of little value. Altogether, about 1500 buildings were destroyed., at an aggregate loss of fifteen millions of dollars.

New-Hampshire Sentinel, Keene, NH 12 Jul 1866


CHEAP FURNITURE.----The Portland Transcript tells a story illustrating the thieving carried on at the Portland fire. It says a man and his wife were burned out and went over to the Cape to board, and on being shown to their room found it furnished with their own furniture.

Salt Lake Daily Telegraph, Salt Lake, UT 6 Nov 1866


INCIDENT OF THE PORTLAND FIRE.----The Portland Press says that during the Revolutionary War, when Mowatt burned Portland, an infant but a few weeks old was removed from a house on Forest street, below India street, in that town, and taken out of the town for safety. The house was burned down. During the recent conflagration, that same infant was removed from a house erected on the spot where stood the one burnt by Mowatt, from which ninety years ago she had been removed, and she was once more taken to a place of safety. She was the venerable Miss Hannah Thorlo. She is now ninety-one years of age, of infirm health, but possessing a remarkably bright mind. Fortunately, the house of her childhood was untouched by the fire.

The Farmers' Cabinet, Amherst, NH 19 Jul 1866