Great Fire of 1875
On Tuesday, October 26, 1875, fire broke out in a lodging house on A Street in Virginia City at 5:30am. The flames started small, but with a strong westerly wind blowing they soon spread to the nearby houses, and before the fire companies were able to respond, the conflagration was out of control. By the time the last of the flames were finally stamped out that evening, most of the town had been burned, leaving thousands of people homeless and without a place of employment. It was the most devastating fire in Nevada's history, and it took place in what at the time was the largest city in the state.
The full list of buildings destroyed in the fire is too great to repeat here. In fact, no such "complete" list exists. But most of the town's notable buildings went up in flames. Many of them were rebuilt in the following years. Here is a partial list of the largest and most important buildings destroyed.
- International Hotel
- Piper's Opera House
- Catholic Church
- Methodist Church
- St. Paul's Episcopal Church
- Storey County Court House
- City Hall
- Bank of California
- Territorial Enterprise Offices
- Consolidated Virginia Hoisting Works
- Consolidated Virginia Mill
- California Company Stamp Mill
- Ophir Hoisting Works
- Philadelphia Brewery
- Carson Brewery
In addition, nearly every store and business along C Street was destroyed, and most of the houses on the west side. The damage was estimated to be $10 million, at least.
VIRGINIA CITY IN RUINS.
A Fearful and Uncontrollable Conflagration--The Heart of the City Swept Away--Several Thousand Persons Homeless--The Immediate Loss Probably About $7,000,000--Consolidated Virginia Hoisting Works and Mill, the Ophir Works and the New California Stamp Mill Destroyed--But Little Property Saved Anywhere in the City.
Yesterday morning, at 5:30 o'clock, a fire broke out in a lodging-house on A street, about midway between Taylor and Union streets, and nearly in the rear of William Mooney's livery stable, and soon got beyond the control of the Fire Department, when it swept through and destroyed nearly the whole of the business part of the city. Before water was got on the fire several wooden buildings adjoining the lodging house were on fire, and it was plainly to be seen that a great fire was imminent.
A heavy wind was blowing from the west, and this veered about in all directions as the fire increased in magnitude, firing buildings on all sides with alarming rapidity. It was soon seen that the efforts of the firemen to control the flames would be fruitless, and the people began to assert themselves to save their goods. The wildest confusion prevailed, as all saw that, exert themselves as they might, the rapidly advancing flames must soon overwhelm their homes and household goods and gods.
Although the general course of the wind was from the west, yet the flames rapidly backed up against it and also moved at great speed to the north and south, while they rushed at race-horse speed to the eastward, making great leaps from building to building.
THE BURNED DISTRICT.
When the fire was finally subdued, it had swept away all of that part of the city Iying between Taylor street on the south, Carson street on the north, Stewart street on the west and the Chinese quarter on the east. The fire even exceeded these bounds, as on the south it crossed Taylor street on B and C streets and destroyed much valuable property; also crossed again below D street, when it destroyed the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church and many fine residences.
It also crossed Carson street and destroyed a considerable number of valuable buildings in that direction.
The fire everywhere made a clean sweep; none of the buildings supposed to be fire-proof stood the test. The flames passed through the majority of the brick buildings almost as rapidly as though they had been of wood. The firemen and the people were driven from point to point, and all appeared stupefied and powerless, saying: "Nothing can be done. The fire must burn itself out." It was plainly to be seen that this was but too true. There was nothing to prevent the flames going as far as food for them was to be found.
A WILD SCENE
Was presented when the fire was at its height. Viewed from the elevated ground to the westward the city was a sea of flames, from which vast columns of inky smoke rose hundreds of feet into the air. On all sides was heard the roar of the fire, the crash of falling roofs and walls, and every few minutes tremendous explosions of black and giant powder, as buildings were blown up in various parts of the town. Some of these explosions were so heavy that they are said to have rattled crockery and glassware in the town of Dayton, five miles distant. In all directions and on all the streets the people were seen lugging along trunks, articles of furniture and bundles of bedding and clothing. No sooner had they deposited their loads in what was supposed to be a place of safety than the advancing flames compelled them to make another retreat. Many persons thus moved their goods from six to eight times, their pile growing less at each removal till at last they found themselves left with a mere handful of property.
Furniture of all kinds was consumed after it had been carried into the streets, and not a few pianos were thus abandoned to their fate after they had been carried out of buildings.
SOME OF THE PRINCIPAL BUILDINGS BURNED.
At the present writing it is impossible to give even what would approach to a correct list of losses. We can only mention a few of the principal buildings, public and private, that have been burned: Between A and B street, beginning at the south, there was burned the residence of William Wood, the house of the Eagle Engine Company, No. 3, Derby & Garhart's livery stable, Schelweck's lodging-house, Mrs. Cooper's buildings, the Noyes' building, Wilson & Brown undertaking establishment, William Mooney's livery stable, Babcock's saloon, the Court-house, with County Jail and all of the county offices, the Washoe Club room, Virginia Hotel, Fulton Market, Filiott's grocery and provision store, Piper's saloon, Miners' Hall, Pioneer Hall, Capital lodging-house, residence of Thos. Buckner, and a great number of smaller buildings of all kinds. To the northward of Sutton avenue was destroyed the large new residence of Judge B. C. Whitman, and those of E. Strother, W. E. F. Deal, Fred. Boegle, with scores of other fine buildings of various kinds.
In the western part of the town were destroyed the fine residences of John Mackey, J. P. Martin, Charles Forman, Charles Rawson, Judge Seely, F. A. Tritle, Charles Tozer, R. M. DagO gett, W. B. Crane, A. Aurich, P. F. Beardsley, A. Hansk, Harry Block, D. E. McCarthy, Judge Rising, Joseph Beers, Oscar Steele, P. H. Scott, and so many others that we cannot undertake to make mention of them at this time. On the west side of C street a clean sweep was made, from and including Marte's large new brick building all the way out to Carson street. Here was destroyed Williams & Bixler's building, Mallon's store, Barnett's clothing store, the Bank of California, the clothing store of Banner Brothers, John Gillig's hardware store, M. M. Fredrick's jewelry store, Union Market, Philadelphia shoe store, A. Vaenberg's dry goods store, Roos Brothers' clothing store, Block & Co., dry goods; Fletcher & Co., furniture; Magnolia saloon, Cohn & Isaacs, clothing; Washington, Assembly and Delta saloons, Harris Brothers, cigars; International Hotel and saloon, Palace saloon, Gobey & Williams' saloon, Theodore Wolf's tailor shop, the old Masonic Block, Berk's dry goods store, City Bakery, Thiele's drug store, the grocery and provision store of McMillan & Adams, new Masonic Building, J. Cornwell, furniture; Masel meat market; J. J. Cooper's stables, hay-yard and large lodging-house; Dickman's grocery store, Delleplane's restaurant, the City Hall and many other fine buildings. On the east side of C street, beginning at Taylor, was destroyed Black's large brick building, in which were many offices and businesses--among others the of fives of the Virginia evening Chronicle and the "Footlight;" the Enterprise building and office, J. C. Currie's auction, Noe's photographic gallery, Cook & Schonfelt's furniture store, the grocery and provision store of Hatch Brothers, Central Market, Philadelphia Brewery, Carson Brewery, Washington Guard Hall, Postoffice and building, James Kelly's liquor store and soda factory, store of J. C. Hempton & Co., house of Knickerbocker Engine Company No. 5, Conrad Wiegand's assay office, Mrs. Emory's lodging house, McCutchon and Kruttechnicht's lodging houses, Lonkey & Smith's lumber yard, J.C. Smith' s blacksmith shop and many other buildings.
In the eastern part of the city the more prominent buildings burned were the Catholic Church, a splendid brick structure; the Methodist Church, St. Paul's (Episcopal) Church, the residence of bishop Whitaker and D. Driscoll, the well-known stock broker, with all the blocks of buildings Irving north of Taylor street and east of D as far north as to and some distance beyond Carson street, going east through Chinatown and nearly to the C. and C. shaft.
Piper's Opera House was blown up after it was in flames, yet made a great and intensely hot fire. The freight and passenger depots of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad Company were in flames soon after the fire attacked the Opera House, and from these buildings the fire soon reached the Consolidated Virginia hoisting works; thence traveled to and destroyed the big mill of the company named and the new stamp-mill of the California Company. Shortly after the Ophir works were on fire, and soon all in that neighborhood was a sea of flames. At the Consolidated Virginia and Ophir mines immense quantities of timbers, wood and lumber were destroyed, burning fiercely and for a great length of time.
As the fire approached the hoisting works of the several mines, the men were brought up from the lower levels, and all were safe on the surface before the flames reached the buildings surrounding the shafts. The top of the Consolidated Virginia shaft was bulkheaded and covered to a considerable depth with dirt, rendering it quite secure. It is supposed, at the Ophir shaft, the cages were let down into their several compartments and the safety apparatus sprung. When waste rock was shoveled in upon them, one of the cages gave way at the last moment and left its compartments open. It is thought that a portion of the timbers of the shaft were burned, as a strong smell of gas from burning pine came up the Gould and Curry shaft for a time yesterday afternoon. The hoisting compartments of the Curry were then closed, and the column of the pump opened so that the water, after being brought to near the surface, was allowed to fall back, thus driving the air and gases back whence they came. Even though the timbers in the Ophir should take fire it would be impossible for the flames to extend into the California, as between the two mines there is a space of about 300 feet in which there are no timbers. The burning of the hoisting works and mills will throw a small army of men out of employment, and men, too, in many instances, who have lost their homes and all they contained. These people, and hundreds of others, will need immediate assistance from abroad.
ACCIDENTS AND INCIDENTS.
Two men are known to have been killed during the fire, and many were badly hurt, while scores made hair-breath escapes of all kinds. A Mr. Ketton, of Gold Hill, was killed while passing from C to D street by the falling of the wall of the Carson Brewery. Two or three men were pretty seriously injured by the same wall.
A man, who appeared to be considerably intoxicated, was killed in the Black building. He was in Ash's book and toy store and was throwing out toys to persons in front, the upper floors of the building being about to fall in at the time. He was urged to leave the building, but continued to joke and fling out toys. Suddenly something from above fell upon him and knocked him senseless to the floor. An attempt was made to get the man out, but it was unsuccessful, and he was left to his fate in the burning building.
Several narrowly escaped being crushed by falling walls, and several came near being hurt in the blowing up of buildings. A number of persons came near being burned in their rooms, and a few were rescued from third-story windows, some throwing themselves down upon mattresses placed for their reception. Several horses were burned alive, and cats were to be seen darting out of burning buildings with their tails on fire.
Two engines of the Fabcock, of Eagle Engine Company No. 3, and the Knickerbocker, No. 5 were lost by being cut off by the fire. A train of wood cars was caught at the north end of the track of the railroad, north of the Ophir, and totally destroyed. At the time the County buildings took fire, the Sheriff took the prisoners from the County jail and lodged them in the station-house; soon the station-house, which was in the basement of the Opera House, was threatened and the prisoners were again removed; and, to make sure of their safety, they were this time taken out to Cedar Hill and shut up in the old Sierra Nevada tunnel.
There was much stealing during the fire, and in some instances men were obliged to draw pistols in order to prevent their property being carried off by thieves. Last night the several military companies were ordered out, and were on duty in various parts of the town. A regular old fashioned Washoe zephyr set in soon after dark, walls were blown down in all directions, and suffocating clouds of dust and ashes were whirled through the burnt district, rendering duty in the streets exceedingly disagreeable.
The Post Office will be reopened in the Beardsley building, South C street. The Western Union Telegraph Company, who were burned out by the fire which a short time since destroyed Odd Fellows' Hall, were again burned out yesterday at the store of J. and J. B. Mallon, when they went out into the northern suburbs of the town, running a pony into the city with dispatches.
ORIGINS OF THE FIRE.
The lodging house in which the fire originated was kept by a woman named Kate Shea, sometimes called "Crazy Kate." A lodger who was almost suffocated in his room states that the fire started in the hall of the basement of the building, near a water closet. He says that all the fire he saw as he escaped from his room was at the point mentioned. The occupants of the house were generally a rowdy set of men and women, and it is said that some kind of drunken carouse was going on among them until about 2 o'clock yesterday morning. The house had been complained of as disorderly and a nuisance, and it was a great mistake that it was not closed at that time.
LOSES AND INSURANCE.
At this time it is almost impossible to estimate Sick the total loss by the fire, but it is placed at from seven to ten millions of dollars. Many of the business houses destroyed had on hand immense stocks of goods, and the mills and hoisting works cost about $300,000 each. Little could yesterday be ascertained in regard to insurance. None of the property destroyed was very heavily insured, however.
The firemen labored faithfully from first to last, and by the night were well-nigh exhausted. The Cold Hill firemen came up to the city and did good works until the boiler of their steamer exploded. separator
Yesterday, after the Consolidated Virginia and Ophir works were in full blaze, a gentleman, whose residence is east of the Ophir shaft --and which residence had been on fire several times-- had finally given up that the house must be lost, and had ceased further exertion; suddenly he was surprised to see a mountain quail light at his feet. In a moment the bird flew up to his breast, and lit on his vest. The man unbuttoned two buttons of his vest, when the bird ran beneath it and nestled close over his heart. He buttoned his coat over the bird, and then said to himself, "That means that my house can be saved," and went to work again. Just then the uncertain wind changed; the volume of fire was turned another way; the house was saved, and now, next to the children, the bird is the highest prized treasure in that house.