Philadelphia, PA Ledger Newspaper Building Fire, Dec 1892




PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 6. - The Public Ledger Building, at the southwest corner of Sixth and Chestnut streets, was badly damaged this evening by fire and water. The fire was confined almost entirely to the composing room, situated on the top floor, but a torrent of water poured down through the building, flooding every floor in the structure.

The Ledger Building is 58 feet front on Chestnut street and 235 feet on Sixth Street, and is a five-story brownstone building with a mansard roof. The business office is at the corner.

At 5:40 o'clock this evening Miss Wise, one of the clerks, detected smoke in the room. A slight fire had just been extinguished in the prothenotary office on the opposite corner by the firemen, and a clerk stepped outside and told them he thought the Ledger Building was on fire. The firmen found the cellar beneath the business office to be a mass of flames.

That part of the cellar in which the fire was burning had been used by workmen engaged in repairs on the building to store their tools in, and was filled with rubbish. The firemen soon saw that a conflagration was threatened, and they turned in another alarm and went to work to put out the flames.

The rubbish in the cellar fed the flames, and the fire swept through the back, and burst out into a light-well in the centre of the building. With a leap the flames sprang up this natural chimney and burst into the composing room on the fifth floor through the windows. The few compositors at work had already been warned, and they made their escape to the street with difficulty.

In the meantime two alarms had been turned in, and a dozen steamers and hose carts and trucks were arriving. On the floor beneath the composing room the rooms of the city department were situated. City Editor McWade was making out the evening assignments for his men when the shouts of the firemen reached him. Grasping the copy that had been turned in by the reporters during the day, he stuffed it into his pockets, and then, after depositing the obituaries of men of local prominence in another pocket, he took his assignment book under his arm and beat a retreat.

As the fire gained headway and promised to destroy the building, every one around the establishment, volunteers from other newspapers, and the police, turned in and began to carry all perishable articles out of the burning structure. The files of the paper were all saved, and the many rare and costly articles in Mr. Childs's private office were all carried out.

In the meantime, a dozen streams of water had been turned on the fire in the cellar, and the flames there were soon extinguished. The flames in the composing room, however, had been creating great havoc and at 7 o'clock the fire burst through the mansard roof and shot up in a great column to the sky.

Mr. Childs and his inseparable companion and friend, Anthony J. Drexel, the banker, now arrived at the scene. Mr. Childs posted himself in the doorway of the Court House, across the street from the burning building, and calmly resigned himself to watch his building go up in flames. When invited to enter a neighboring office he declined, and said he liked to watch the fire. He assumed charge of his employes, and directed them what to do in the way of providing for the issuing of the paper to-morrow.

Engine after engine kept arriving and a deluge of water fell on the roof. Fortunately no wind of any account was blowing and the fire did not spread rapidly. A high cornice of the mansard roof on the Sixth Street front acted as a wall to prevent the flames spreading along the roof to the south, and on the west the solid wall of the Land, Title and Trust Company's building stayed the progress of the fire in that direction.

The firemen had gotten the flames under control by 7:30 o'clock, and all danger of the total destruction of the building had passed. Torrents of water had poured through the building, and the interior was flooded. The water ran down through every floor into the press room, and ten inches of water rose about the presses, which had been thoroughly wetted before by the dripping from above.

While the fire was still burning and the water pouring through the building Mr. Drexel entered it and made his way to the rear of the fifth floor. When he came out he announced in cheerful tones to Mr. Childs that but little damage had been done to the rear of the building, and that the Annex on Sansom Street had escaped entirely.

While the firemen were at work they were spurred to greater efforts still by the announcement that Mr. Childs intended to distribute $5,000 among them for their prevention of the total destruction of the building. Neither was Mr. Childs unmindful of the firemen's bodily comfort, for he provided them all with a bountiful supper at a neighboring restaurant.

The greatest destruction by the fire was done in the composing room on the fifth floor. This was completely burned out, and the roof was with it. The local department beneath also suffered from the fire, but the greatest damage was by water. The third floor was taken up by the editorial rooms, and the second floor was occupied by Benjamin F. Teller & Brothers, real estate brokers. The ground floor front was occupied by the business office and by Mr. Childs's private office.

The rear portion of the building on Sixth Street, occupied principally by lawyers, was only damaged by water. Next to the business office on Chestnut Street, one store is occupied by E. A. Hathaway as a typewriter exchange, and another one is a cigar store. Both were badly damaged, both by fire and water.

While the fire was still burning fiercely, the work of getting out to-morrow's paper was going on. The city department was removed to the Board of Trade room in the Drexel Building, and the reporters turned in their copy of the day's doings of a great city as usual.

The mechanical department of the paper was provided for against just such a calamity as occurred to-night. With the exception of presses, the Ledger has a complete newspaper plant at 415 Locust Street, and the compositers are there setting type for to-morrow's paper. As the presses were rendered unfit for use to-night by water, Mr. Childs accepted the offer of William M. Singerly to print his paper from the Record's presses. During the fire the use of presses by every daily and weekly newspaper publisher in the city was tendered to Mr. Childs.

The cause of the fire is unknown. The cellar in which it borke out is not used, and no theory as to how it broke out is advanced. Joel Cook, business manager of the paper, said late to-night that the Ledger's total loss was estimated at $150,000, including $100,000 on the building and $50,000 on the contents. The loss of the tenants is estimated at $50,000. The perfecting presses, engines, and other machinery in the cellar are valued at $250,000, and their only damage is by water, $25,000 being an outside estimate of the loss.

The Ledger job-printing office, occupying a separate building, or annex, on Sansom Street, is uninjured. The business department of the paper continued operations to-night in the Drexel Building, but will open headquarters in the morning at the office of the United Security Life, Insurance, and Trust Company, at 605 Chestnut Street. The insurance on the building amounts to $160,000.

The present Ledger building was erected in 1866. Repairs will be begun at once, and it will be restored.

Recently Mr. Childs had made extensive alterations and repairs to the building. The business office was being enlarged to double its size by the taking in of the adjoining store.

The city room was remodeling and the composing room had only been occupied by the compositors for two weeks. The room was one of the most perfectly equipped and best adapted in the country. It was 80 feet square, with a ceiling nearly 30 feet in height, and had cases for 150 compositors.

The business office was a handsome room, paneled throughout with walnut, with a ceiling of the same wood. Mr. Childs's private office was a small and unpretentious room and was chiefly notable for the many rare, curious, and costly articles with which it was crowded.

A. J. Drexel and George W. Childs, who personally noted the efficiency of the Fire Department and the brave and intelligently-directed efforts of the firemen to save the property, gave expression to their appreciation of the work done by telling Director Beitler of the Department of Public Safety that to-morrow morning a check for $5,000 would be sent to him, to be used at his discretion for the benefit of the firemen.

The New York Times, New York, NY 2 Dec 1892