Fayetteville, NC Town Fire, May 1831
The following letter from the Rev. Mr. Rowland, to the editor of the National Gazette, describes, in a most vivid manner, this sorrowful occurrence.
Fayetteville, N.C. May 29, 1831.
Sir -- FAYETTEVILLE IS NO MORE !! -- This morning the sun rose upon us in its beauty, and with gladdened hearts we flocked to the churches of our God. Now we are in ruins. But two stores of all that this place contained are standing. The rest are entirely consumed. Nothing but stacks of tottering chimnies remain to tell what we once were.
Except in the outskirts of the town, and in those streets which are a little off from the centre of the village, not a dwelling house remains. All the churches, with the exception of the Methodist, which is distant from the centre of the town, are destroyed. The academy, the two splendid hotels, our printing office, the two Banks, the old state house, every apothecary's shop, and some of our mills, are all in ashes.
The fire communicated, (it is supposed) from a chimney, precisely in the centre of our village, and spread with inconceivable rapidity through every street. It was just after the congregation had been dismissed, about half past twelve o'clock, when the fire was first discovered, and in less than one hour and a half our village was literally a "sea of flame." The goods were consumed in the streets, the engines were burnt at their stands. Some who had property removed to a distance in expectation of safety but were disappointed, too soon the destroying element reached them. The churches, though at a distance from each other, were soon in flames. The tall steeple of the Presbyterian church seemed a pyramid of fire; for a while it stood firm, soon the bell descended with a crash -- the steeple trembled, totered and fell. The Episcopal church, which apparently caught at the same time, was soon in ashes.
As I wandered through the out-skirts of the place, to administer relief so far as possible to the distressed, my heart sunk within me. The sick were borne out of their houses, and were lying on pallets in the street. Others, faint and exhausted, were reclining on the beds which had been thrown out. Every moment our ears were stunned with the explosion of powder, to demolish the buildings which might stay the flames. But although many were thus leveled, there was not strength to pull the timbers from the reach of the conflagration.
It is impossible to paint the heart-rending scenes which every where occurred. Parents were inquiring for their children, and children for their parents and in eve countenance reigned despair.
I have been round the fire in every direction, and the above statements are the result of my own observation. From where I now write I can perceive for the extent of nearly half a mile, the light which flashes up from the smouldering ruins. A very small portion of the property was insured. Most of the people lost their all. Our distress may be partially imagined, but cannot be justly conceived of. Much bodily injury was experienced, but so far as it is at present known, no lives were lost. What results may be ascertained when our friends are collected, it is impossible to say.
Henry A. Rowland, Jr.
Huron Reflector Elyria Ohio 1831-06-20