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Delavan House, Albany, New York   Union Station, Albany, New York
View more photos of Albany, NY   Built on the site of the Delavan House

 

Albany, New York

Delavan House Fire

December 30, 1894

Albany, N. Y., Dec. 31. -- The candidacy of the several men for speaker of the assembly received a startling baptism of fire here last night, for the Delvan House, that famous hostelry known from Maine to California, the center of all big state political events for 40 years, was completely destroyed.  Fire is not an uncommon visitor, but fire such as this has seldom been seen.  It was 8:30 and the political headquarters of both Mr. Fish and Mr. Maltby were filled with politicians and newspaper men.  State Factory Inspector Connolly, who had been in the lobby with a number of people, started to go up the elevator.  He remarked that he smelled smoke and suggested an investigation.  Before it could be begun there were cries of fire from different parts of the house simultaneously.

The outburst of flames before an alarm could be given to arouse the inmates of the rooms was something appalling.  Up the elevator shaft there shot a solid column of flames, up the staircase near this perfect sheet, another column.  Fortunately the guest list was not very large, and a majority of those registered were politicians and were down on the second floor.  There was rush for the stair in the front and the servants' stairs in the back, where the flames had not yet reached, and in a few minutes there was a tumbling mass of humanity coming down on these few means of egress.  Those on the two upper floors could not avail themselves of the exits, for the flames were rushing along the corridors, and people on the street, who had not yet seen the flames, heard a crash of glass and saw figures come tumbling tout the windows.

Within 10 minutes after the first note of an alarm, at least 12 persons were dangling on the insufficient rope fire escapes or hanging  on to the window sills.

The depart arrived quickly, but it took some time to get ladders up, and in the meantime some of the people had dropped to the street.  On the right side of the building there appeared at the window, surrounded by smoke, a man and a woman.  The man had hold of the woman trying to persuade here to wait for help, but she broke away and sprang out.  She struck a balcony and rebounded to the street.  The man waited for a ladder and was taken down in safety.  The woman was his wife and she will probably die.  In ex-Speaker Malby's room, which was to the rear of the elevator shaft where the fire first appeared, there was the greatest excitement.  About 20 politicians were there, including Congressmen Weaver and Curtis, Senator Kilburn and Mr. Maltby.  In getting out Mr. Robbins had his face badly burned.

In Mr. Fish's headquarters there was less hurry because they were near the stairs.  All got down safely, but the majority left their baggage.  E. A. Manchester of Auburn, postmaster of the assembly, ran toward the baggage-room for his grip, returning he found his way blocked with flames and smoke and rushed back to a window.  He smashed it out and slid down the rope fire escape.

Although five stories high, there were no outside fire escapes and the only means left for people in the cut off rooms was to use the rope fire escapes.  B. F. Heilman of Brooklyn, was in the third story.  He opened his room door as soon as he heard the cry of fire. A burst of flame made him look to the window as the means of escape.  In an instant he had but two alternatives - a fiery dearth or a jump.  He chose the latter and plunged through the window.  When he was picked up from the sidewalk he was found to be badly injured.  He will die.  His wife who was in the room with him tried the fire escape, but it either broke or else she failed to hold to it, for she too came to the pavement heavily.  Her right leg was broken, her left ankle dislocated and she was badly burned about the face and head. 

In less than 15 minutes after the fire started the entire structure was wrapped in flames.  From the windows of the each of its five stories smoke poured in the volumes and a few minutes later the flames belched forth.  In 20 minutes the building resembled a seething crater and it was plain to the thousands of spectators who had gathered that it would be entirely destroyed.  Edward Walsh, a reporter, was caught in the hall.  Before he could get out he was badly burned and had to be taken to the hospital.  Of the 100 or more guests at the hotel not one is known to have saved more than the clothes on their person.  The Delavan House was 50 years old and was one of the most famous hotels in the country. The total loss is estimated at $500,000, with an insurance of $300,000. A falling wall buried a fireman, but he was taken out and is not thought to be dangerously hurt.  One of the incidents of the fire was the escape of Miss Martin of New York.  She was in the fourth story window on the Steuben street side when a ladder was raised.  A messenger boy rushed up and broke the window, thus freeing her.

Fort Wayne News, Fort Wayne, IN 31 Dec 1894

       

Albany, N.Y., Dec 31.--Later developments in the Delavan House fire shows that at least six servants are still unaccounted for.  They are Mary and Bridget Sullivan, chambermaids, who are sisters; Bridget Fitzgibbon, pantry girl; two colored cooks whose names have not yet been ascertained, and a man named Ferando, employed in the stewards department.  The pay roll has not yet been fully verified, and it may be that several persons perished. John Norman, one of the waiters says he took Louis Payne, the well-known friend of Hamilton Fish to room 303 just before the fire broke out.  He returned to the office to get some traps for Mr. Payne and delivered them.  As Norman was returning to the elevator dense smoke appeared and he rushed around from room to room to give the alarm to the guests who were in their rooms.  Norman was overcome by the smoke, which he says was so dense as to blind him and make it impossible to breathe.  He fell unconscious and lay upon the floor some time.  The guests came rushing out and some one stumbled over him and fell heavily.   This aroused him enough so that he got up and reached a window there he could get fresh air.  He escaped from the building none the worse for his experience.  Norman said this morning that many servants must have perished in this way.  He says they were apprised of the fire in time to save themselves, but that they ran around to arouse the guests, and in doing this they were over come by smoke.  Norman was on the fourth floor of the hotel.  The servants had their rooms on the fifth floor, and he thinks that those above him were cut off from all escape. Messrs.  Herty and Moore, the proprietors of the hotel, devoted this morning to hunting for their missing employes.  During the morning they found one of these, but up to 11 o'clock several others could not be found.  It was feared that a number of employes were burned alive.  Chas. Rosecrans, one of the night clerks, could not be found.  He had a room on the fourth floor.  He is a son of Wm. Rosecrans, secretary of the Hotelmen's association. Mrs. S. F. Hill, the housekeeper, is missing.  She had a room on the top floor. Mary and Bridget Sullivan and Bridget Fitzgibbons, hotel servants, who were on the top floor, have been given up as having perished.  It is thought that Kate Crowley, an employe, is dead, as she is missing.  So far as known, none of the guests were lost in the fire.  At the Albany hospital at noon, the physicians said that the four fire patients remaining there would recover.

Mrs. Henry F. Fooks, wife of the agent of the American Cash Register company, of Dayton, O., was the only death, she dying at the hospital.  She jumped from a fourth story window, and it was her husband who clung to the rope fire escape, his feet resting on the cornice of the third story window for ten minutes before a ladder was reached to him.

No attempt has yet been made to examine the ruins.  There are still a couple of streams playing upon the smoking mass of debris.  The proprietors say that the hotel employes had discovered the fire and had ample opportunity to extinguish it before spreading, but for the lack of water.  The house hose was stretched, but there was no force in the water pipes and but a small stream could be secured.  The Bradley Martins were dining in state in one of the small dining rooms when the fire broke out.  They had only time to escape and saved almost nothing.

Fort Wayne News, Fort Wayne, IN 31 Dec 1894

       

"E.C. Delevan erected the hotel in 1844 at a cost of over half a million dollars. It burned down in 1894 and the site was used to build Union Station."

       

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