Philadelphia, PA Huge Business Section Fire, Oct 1839

From the Philadelphia Ledger of October 5.



One of the most disastrous conflagrations that ever occurred in Philadelphia, broke out about half past ten o'clock last night, and raged with unmitigated fury until daylight, in spite of the exertions of the firemen. The fire commenced in the extensive four storied store, No. 14, South Wharves, which extends through and includes No. 19 South Water Street. This store was occupied by Messrs. David W. Prescott and Wm. J. Stroup as a wholesale fish and provision store. The fire had got great headway when it was first discovered, the whole interior of the first and second stories through into Water Street being in flames. The alarm having been given, some of the fire apparatus were on the spot in an incredible short space of time after, but the flames spread and communicated to the adjoining store, No. 15 Water Street, which stood at the corner of an alley, and was occupied as a grocery store by C. Cheeseborough, and swept through with a rapidity that threatened to destroy all the houses to Front and Chestnut Streets. A strong wind was blowing from the north over in that direction. The heat had by this time become intense, the fire having communicated to some oil in one of the stores, the flames leaped across the street, and caught to the house on the western side of Water Street. The houses on each side of the large five storied fire proof store of Cheeny Hickman began to burn, and were soon, in spite of every effort to save them, in a complete blaze. The store of Mr. Hickman stood throughout, having received but little injury. The houses consumed to the north of this were three 3 storied bricks, and occupied as a tavern by Felix O'Leary, and another by James Davis, suspender-maker, and the other by Mifflin, dry goods store. Next to Hickman's store, came No. 41, Thompson & Co.'s Tea Warehouse, which stood the fire for a long time, but finally yielded, followed by Lahey's tavern, Edgar's tavern, a tobacconist establishment, kept by John Lloyd, a three-story brick next door, when the flames reached C. Bunting's store, which being fire-proof, was saved, though several times on fire. The part fronting on Water Street was occupied by Gaskili & Barnes, tailors. Opposite, on the west side of Front Street, the large store next to Richards & Bispham's had the roof destroyed, and the belief was, that the whole of the row to the corner would go, but carpets and blankets were laid upon the roof, and kept saturated with water, which saved them. In the meantime the fire had continued down the stores along the south wharves, and the eastern side of Water Street to Chestnut. The Fulton Hotel, C. King & Co.'s store. No. 19, Geo. Neale's tavern, Adam Hinckle's chandlery, Newbold and Haverstick's counting house, in the second story; Shober and Bunting's store, and Smith and Johnson's warehouse, at the corner of Chestnut Street and the wharf, formerly used by the Baltimore Steamboat Company; the warehouse of H. & White, and John Harding, Jr., above the hotel on Water Street. The walls of the buildings along Chestnut Street fell with a tremendous crash, and it is reported that five or six persons were injured or killed. We sincerely hope, however, that this rumor may prove untrue.
There were two individuals standing on the roof of a Store on the wharf to the North of this, when there was a loud crash of falling walls, and one rushed with wild disorder to the edge of the building. The cry was immediately that one had fallen beneath the ruins, and a thrill of horror ran through the spectators. A ladder was placed against the building, and presently we saw an individual lowered out with a rope which was tied under his arms, whether he was the one supposed to be lost, we could not ascertain. At the period of the falling of the wall, on the North side of Chestnut Street the fire had attained a height that defined all efforts to subdue. It seemed to run across the pavements, and flare up on the sides of the houses on the South side. The Steamboat Hotel, a two-story building occupied by Mr. O'Connor, caught and was soon consumed. Allen's Clothing Store on the opposite side of Water Street followed; next the building at the Southeast corner of Front and Chestnut, then down Front and Water Streets, the destruction continued until it reached Mr. McLivain's Wine Store.
Great fears were entertained lest it would take in the whole block. The shipping began to move out from the wharves for safety, the goods were hastily removed from a number of the stores. The block north of Chestnut Street having been entirely consumed, and the wind blowing still to the south most of the firemen left the burning ruins to render assistance to the stores along Water and Front Streets, south of Chestnut Street. Notwithstanding their exertions had been unceasing from the time the fire broke out until five o'clock in the morning, they commenced with renewed energy to prevent the flames reaching McLivain's wine store, and succeeded.
The stores and dwellings along Front Street below Chestnut, which were destroyed, were the barber shop at the Southeast corner, occupied by Mr. George, two three-story brick houses next below, and the large four story store of Mesgeas & Unkart. At the next store, McLivain's the fire was arrested. About this time, (5 o'clock in the morning,) another fire broke out in Taylor's Alley, caused by the sparks which came from the other fire, and fell in showers about the streets, in an old two-story brick building in the occupancy of Mr. Sweetser, as a commission warehouse, which was gutted. It also communicated to the large brick building in which formerly used to be kept a dance, and in which, also a Thespian Society had their meetings, the upper story being fitted up as a theatre.
The upper part of this building was destroyed; the flames were then conqured, and the engines, which had left the scene of operations in Front Street returned again to render the assistance so much needed in that quarter. Here they struggled with the devouring element until 10 o'clock, A.M. when the fire having been so much sudued that no further danger was apprehended, many of the conpanies left the ground completely wearied out with their extraordinary exertions. The scene all around during the fire was one of the wildest confusion, persons hurrying to and fro, goods & furniture piled up along all the streets for squares distant from the fire, the families that owned the latter sitting shivering by its side, showers of sparks falling around upon the heads of persons and the roofs of houses, many of which caught fire. The roof of Mr. Webb's store at Second and Dock, caught in this way, but was soon extinguished, and for many squares, persons were obliged to be out upon the tops of their roofs, large flakes of fire having been carried by the wind down below South Street.
The wall of the building at the Southeast corner of Chestnut and Front Streets fell about 9 o'clock, and it is said, buried a number of persons; one, a member of the Good Will engine, was killed instantly, his face horribly lacerated. Several others were seriously injured during the night, by furniture being thrown upon them. A young man, named TIMMINS, had his face and hands badly burned, in attempting to save the books of Mr. Prescott. We expect that many more accidents will become known to us as soon as the confusion abates. The firemen have done nobly, risking their lives, and working incessantly for the benefit of their fellow citizens. The name of the Good Will member killed was WILLIAM MORELAND, and we learn that he had been married but about three weeks.
A member of the Weccacoe engine, named ROBERT REYNOLDS, was seriously injured internally, by a bale of cotton which had been thrown from the window of an upper story. CHARLES HERMAN, another member of the same company, was also injured in the same way, and is not lying unable to move.
This morning, a view of the spot of last night's occurrences presents a scene of desolation seldom witnessed. The bare and ruined walls are tottering to their fall; goods of all descriptions are piled promiscouously upon the wharves. The whole police force of the city, with the Mayor, is there protecting the property from spoilers. The amount destroyed it is impossible to estimate, though the loss must be very great indeed. The number of houses destroyed is estimated at between 40 and 50, some of them the finest stores in the city.
The following, in addition to those already mentioned, have been destroyed: White & Stevan's store, No. 21 Front Street; Drayman's, and the Mechanics' Tavern. There are perhaps, some which have escaped our notice, from nothing remaining of them but a heap of ruins.

Star and Republican Banner Gettysburg Pennsylvania 1839-10-15