Oil City, PA Fire, May 1866

The Great Fire of May 26, 1866, was one of those disasters that come very naturally to a young city built up as temporarily as was Oil City, at that time. Center street was then the chief thoroughfare, and about two hundred and fifty feet north, on what is now Elm street, was a building used as a steam laundry, which caught fire about eleven o'clock on Saturday morning. The light frame structures burned like tinder; the fire broke through by a livery stable to Seneca street, and fanned by a hot May breeze it grew uncontrollable almost at once, and flashed away toward Center street. Here the Ohio and Philadelphia hotels on the corner, Shively's block, Burchfield & Casterline's hardware, Charles Robson & Company's office, Gotthall's Provision house, William's brick store, Reynold's Brodhead & Company, Colbert & Eggert's drug store, the six-story Mercantile block, the finest in the city, and whose occupants came near perishing in the flames, all blazed up in quick succession up Center street, heating the macadamized pavement white. The Methodist Episcopal church, the school house, Fox, Fuller & Company's buildings, mills and lumber yards, the Metropolitan and Oil City hotels, on up Plumer road, and Race street went in quick succession, and it was only the most strenuous exertions that saved Grove avenue and the bridge connections with the west side. By the end of four hours almost fifteen acres had been burned over, probably two hundred buildings destroyed, one hundred and fifty families made homeless, and the total loss aggregated almost a million dollars, with less than ten per cent, insurance. With characteristic vim, however, the work of rebuilding began at once, and many contracts were let before the old buildings had been consumed.

History of Venango County, PA, pages 445-446