Portland, ME Fire, Jul 1866 - Miscellaneous Items


The new City Hall, which was nearly destroyed, the front walls alone remaining standing, was considered fire-proof, and was a most magnificent structure. The facade, of Nova Scotia freestone, was 175 feet, and the extreme depth on Myrtle-street was 275 feet. It was surmounted with an elegant dome, and the principal hall has been pronounced one of the finest in the country. The hall was built to ultimately accommodate the State Legislature and State officials. The amount of furniture placed therein for safe keeping, and which was all burned, is estimated at a quarter of a million. The records of Probate were also destroyed, but the city records, the Registry of Deeds, and the Court Records of Cumberland County, are saved.

The summary manner in which people were obliged to leave their homes has been sufficiently described. On Friday people that had been rendered homeless were in houses, open fields, and in tents, barns and anywhere that offered them space to watch their little stock of goods. Some had saved a hop skirt and a stove; others a tin dipper and a couple of chairs, a tea-kettle and a pair of parlor pictures, a washstand and boots, and all such miscellaneous collections in small quantities. Pianos were numerous, and quite a number of families saved their piano and a cat. One man, worth in the morning over $50,000, pulled a pair of his wife's boots out of his pocket, and said "twas all he had saved."

Although every tent sent to the city had on Saturday been pitched and occupied, and every house crowded to its utmost capacity, nearly 6,000 persons were even then without roofs to cover them, making a total of not less than 12,000 persons, a majority of them women and children.

All the German families, with three exceptions, were rendered homeless by the fire. They are a social rendered homeless by the fire. They are a social people and had concentrated in one part of the city.

The promptness with which calls for assistance have been answered in the shape of supplies in all quarters is a cause of rejoicing. Mayor Bailey and Marshall Kent, of Portsmouth, N. H., arrived on Friday with $1,000 and four car-loads of provisions. The workmen in the Navy-yard at Portsmouth have contributed a day's pay, which will amount to about $1,700. Ten thousand dollars was also received from Newburyport. The men sent by J. B. Smith from Boston are rendering efficient aid. The amount contributed in Boston was on Saturday nearly $50,000; and the Boston police on Friday evening contributed $1,000 for the relief of the Portland policemen.

The scene presented at the old City Hall, where the rations are distributed, is worthy of note. Here all day long, were men, women and children, Americans, Germans, and Irish, all huddled together, each awaiting their food which had been sent from various quarters, and which they received with hearty thanks and joyful countenances. One American merchant came privately to the police and asked for assistance for his suffering family, he having lost all, and was ashamed to be seen begging. Several others have like scruples, and are obtaining food through the police.

On Saturday the streets in the burnt district had been so far cleared that they were passable in nearly all directions. Notwithstanding the blistering heat, workmen have been busily employed in clearing away the rubbish and excavating among the debris for the buried safes and vaults. In the principal business streets there are signs erected among the masses of brick and mortar giving the new locations of the former occupants of these sites. In nearly all instances the principle business firms have removed or are removing to new localities, there undauntedly to resume trade. Most of the smaller and poorer class of sates were entirely ruined by the fire, which literally tore, them asunder.

The wind at the time of the fire blew a gale, and charred paper and other articles were on the next day picked up at New-Meadows, evidently blown from the fire---a distance of nearly twenty miles. It is also stated that cinders fell in Bath, thirty miles distant. About an hour after the fire broke out, a large board, one entire mass of flame, was carred[sic] into the air by the heated current, and transported upon the wings of the blast a distance of over one mile, to the northerly slope of Munjoy's Hill. It there lodged on the roof of a dwelling-house near which were two others, and speedily the three houses were leveled to the ground. All the engines in the city were contending with the flames at the opposite section, and consequently not an effort could be or was made to save them. The glare of this conflagration was seen in the country a distance of more than sixty miles, and the heat was so intense that standing at the distance of a quarter of a mile from the flames, with the wind driving them from you, you were forced to beat a hasty retreat, or have your flesh blistered.

On Saturday morning all the bar-rooms and saloons left in the city were closed by order of the Mayor. The measure was a wise and timely precaution at such a time. The fireworks provided for the entertainment of the public on the night of the Fourth have been carted to the cove, and there thrown into the waters. The people feel that of such exhibitions they have had a satiety at present.

The New York Times, New York, NY 10 Jul 1866