Buffalo, NY Pierce Hotel Fire, Feb 1881

A Large Fire In Buffalo.

Dr. R.V. Pierce’s Hotel Destroyed-Losses Estimated At Over $400,000

Buffalo, Feb. 16.-Another great disaster has occurred to-day, and one which causes a loss that will be severely felt in Buffalo, through the destruction by fire of the magnificent hotel erected by the Hon. R.V. Pierce, in Prospect-avenue. The fire was first discovered about 2 o’clock, when smoke was seen issuing from the tall tower of the hotel above the sixth story. Those who went up into that part of the building found that the baggage-room, situated off the main elevator, in the top story, and close by the tower or cupola, was on fire. The hotel was provided with a fire extinguishing apparatus, but when an attempt was made to use it the cylinders burst. The Fire Department was on the ground promptly, but twenty times the number of engines could not have saved the building. The wind was blowing a gale, and had a clean sweep over the structure from the lake. The flames spreading rapidly, were fanned into actual ferocity, and their roar could be heard for some distance. Twenty patients were in the infirmary or medical and surgical department, two of whom had undergone serious operations only a few hours before. They were all safely removed.

When the first alarm was given there was very great excitement among the inmates, and it looked at one time as though some of them would sacrifice their lives in their eagerness to save their effects. By the cool conduct of the employees, however, they were all induced finally to get out, and not any too soon, for within 15 minutes the tower fell crushing through the roof, when the flames had full sway, soon reaching the first story. Frequent explosions were heard, probably caused by the cracking or bursting of the stone and marble work of the interior. In the course of two hours all that remained of the beautiful structure was a heap of ruins. Dr. Pierce narrowly escaped being consumed in the building. He was in the dispensary when told the house was on fire, and ran up five flights of stairs as quick as he could, and was almost overpowered by the smoke and flames. The boarders were unable to save their effects, and their losses vary from a few hundred to $20,000. Mr. H.G. Walton, of the Bank of Commerce, had a collection of paintings valued at $7,000. None of the inmates are heavily insured. Dr. Pierce estimates his loss at $400,000. He is insured for $260,400, mostly in Eastern companies. He will doubtless rebuild the hotel, but in all probability not on as elaborate a scale as was observed in its original construction. Several firemen were injured by falling walls, but only one, William Tanner, was seriously hurt. He was buried under a portion of the tower. Work was commenced on the building in June, 1876, and it was formally opened for business in May, 1878. It had a frontage of 210 feet, with wing extensions of 125 feet, was 216 feet in depth, six stories in height, and 258 feet in height including the tower. It was completely and elegantly furnished throughout. The total cost of the aggregated structure nearly $500,000. The origin of the fire is a mystery, the most plausible theory being that of ignition by a gas jet. The house was fully equipped with fire extinguishers, but the tank bursting rendered them useless.

The New York Times, New York, NY 17 Feb 1881