New York, NY Fifth Avenue Fire, Oct 1891

A Fire In Fifth Avenue

The Cutting House, Mr. Belmont’s Home, A Ruin.

Mrs. Belmont Forced To Escape Through A Window-A Servant Girl Gallantly Rescued By Firemen-Heavy Loss On Furniture.

The three-story brownstone house on Fifth Avenue belonging to Mrs. Heywood Cutting, which was the residence of Mr. August Belmont, was burned yesterday. The flames swept through the house so quickly that Mrs. Belmont and some of the servants had narrow escapes. Fortunately many of the personal effects of the Belmont family had not been taken to the house, into which the family moved on Sept. 1, but on the other hand the rich furniture and some more or less valuable pictures belonging to Mrs. Heywood Cutting, from whom the Belmonts rented the house furnished, were burned up or ruined by water.

The fire started a little after 11 o’clock in what was called the “pink” parlor, the middle one of three on the first floor, and the construction of the house was such that the flames swept through all the floor before those in the house knew that there was a fire. Mrs. Belmont and nine female servants were in the house.

Mrs. Belmont was in her boudoir, which was on the second floor in the rear. Her children, Raymond and August Jr., were out taking a walk. She was looking over some jewels when she smelled smoke. She rushed to the stairway, but was met by flames that came furiously up from the floor below as if fanned by a good breeze. A bit of the flame flashed so near her face before she could turn it that her hair was singed. She ran back realizing that she was in danger.

Some jewel cases containing valuable diamonds were spread about the room. She had others in her hands at the time. She threw her jewels upon a dressing case and called out to the servants to save themselves, and ran to the window.

The house has a one-story extension in the rear, so that a few feet below her window was a smooth roof. Fortunately the house adjoining, 103, occupied by Mrs. Pierrepont, is built in the same style. Mrs. Belmont jumped from her window to the roof, climbed over the little partition wall which separated it from the next roof, and went to as window of 103. In a minute she was taken inside. She came at once to the street, looked at the flames bursting from her own house, and then went to the residence of Mrs. H.V.R. Kennedy, at 99 Fifth Avenue, where friends attended her. She was in no way injured, although naturally much excited. The fire lines had not been taken down before many of her acquaintances called on her.

Some of the servants discovered the fire before Mrs. Belmont did and had left the house. Annie Crane, a chambermaid, was on the third floor. As she ran down the stairs she was severely burned about her face. Maria Coffey, another chambermaid, had a narrow escape. She was on the third floor. The stairway was filled with flame before she knew of her danger. She ran to the window facing Fifth Avenue and screamed for help. The fire had burst into the room where she was and smoke was pouring from the window where she stood.

The firemen had not come at that time, and when Capt. Shea first saw the burning house the woman was half hanging from the window. John Sullivan and Thomas Coleman of Engine No. 14 took scaling ladders and started to rescue her. She was leaning from a window directly above the balcony which surmounts the entrance to the house. To reach this, Sullivan first went on his ladder to the balcony at the second-story window. Then with his ladder in his hands he made a dangerous leap to the balcony over the doorway, and ran his ladder up to the window where the girl was. She obeyed Capt. Shea’s order not to jump, and with great presence of mind climbed through the window to a heavy cornice just below. The flames were then coming from the window. The girl was handed down to Fireman Coleman, who had followed Sullivan, and brought to the ground amid a great cheering from the crowd. The girl had serious burns. She was to 317 East Thirty-eighth Street.

The fire was quickly gotten under control. A second alarm was sent in five minutes after the first one. At 12:15 Mrs. Belmont, accompanied by Detective Hayes, entered the burned house to look for her jewels. With a mackintosh closely wrapped about her, she went up to her boudoir, which was dripping and full of smoke. When she jumped from the window, she left several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of jewels behind her. The firemen had gathered up some of those in sight and taken care of them. In the room was a safe, which contained the rest. The doors were open, but the jewels were safe though covered with smoke and cinders. Mrs. Belmont produced a key and opened a secret drawer on the side of the safe where a casket full of diamonds was stored. They were as bright as ever. Accompanied by the Detective, Mrs. Belmont took it from the house.

In one of the rooms below had been a large portrait of the late August Belmont, which had been highly prized by the family. The canvas had been burned from the frame, which still hung from its wire cord. Mrs. Belmont looked at the ruin and burst into tears. Such portions of her wardrobe as had been taken to the house were burned, but the greater part had not been brought from her country home ay Babylon, L.I. Valuable plate was stored on the ground floor, which was found to be uninjured. Some books in the library, which was on the ground floor, also escaped. All else in the house was ruined.

The house, as stated, was owned by Mrs. Heywood Cutting. It was richly furnished throughout. None of the furniture was saved. Mr. August Belmont was in Louisville, Ky., yesterday. A telegram telling him of the fire was sent, and a reply was received that he would come to New-York at once.

Mrs. Belmont could not tell what the loss would be. On the house and furniture the damage was estimated to be $125,000.

Martin Coleman, the fire man who was concerned it the rescue of the servant Maria Coffey, was overcome by smoke and heat. His foot was also injured slightly. He was taken to the New-York hospital, but before night he was able to go to his home, 201 First Avenue.

Mrs. Belmont and her children went last night to the old Belmont mansion, 109 Fifth Avenue.

The New York Times, New York, NY 9 Oct 1891