Great Fire of 1901

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Jacksonvillians walk amongst the ruins.

The Great Fire of 1901 was a conflagration that occurred in Jacksonville, Florida on May 3, 1901. It was one of the worst disasters in Florida history and the US' third largest urban fire, next to the Great Chicago Fire and the 1906 San Francisco fire[1]



Spanish moss, which was used as mattress stuffing at the Cleaveland Fibre Factory

In 1901, Jacksonville was mainly a wooden city, with roof shingles like tinder after a prolonged drought[2] And around noon on Friday, May 3, 1901, workers at the Cleaveland Fibre Factory on the corner of Beaver and Davis Streets knocked off for lunch. Several minutes later, sparks from the chimney of a nearby shanty started a fire in a pile of Spanish moss that had been laid out to dry. First, factory workers tried to put it out with a few buckets of water, as they had frequently done on similar occasions.[3] However, the blaze was soon out of control due to the wind picking up out of the east.[4] A brisk northwest wind fanned the flames, which "spread from house to house, seemingly with the rapidity that a man could walk".[5]

The fire ravaged most of Jacksonville.

In eight hours, the fire burned 146 city blocks, destroyed more than 2,368 buildings, and left almost 10,000 residents homeless. It is said the glow from the flames could be seen in Savannah, Georgia, and the smoke plumes in Raleigh, North Carolina.[6]

Bird's-eye view of the destruction left in the wake of the Great Fire of 1901


Florida Governor William S. Jennings declared martial law in Jacksonville and dispatched several state militia units to help. Reconstruction began immediately, and the city was returned to civil authority on May 17. Seven human deaths were reported.

The George A. Brewster Hospital and School of Nurse Training, which later became Methodist Medical Center, opened to treat black victims of the fire.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, built of bricks in 1887, was the only major church in the city to withstand the fire.

The Duval County Courthouse and all its real estate records were destroyed in the fire. To this day real estate deeds in Duval County refer either to "the current public records of Duval County, Florida" or, if the records predate the fire, "the former public records of Duval County, Florida." It is the only county in Florida for which that is the case. The only existing pre-Fire real estate records are title abstracts saved by Title and Trust, a title company that still charges for their use.


New York City architect Henry John Klutho helped rebuild the city. He and other architects, enamored by the "Prairie Style" of architecture then being popularized by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago and other Midwestern cities, designed exuberant local buildings with a Florida flair.[citation needed] While many of Klutho's buildings were demolished by the 1980s, several of his creations remain, including the St. James Building (a former department store, from 1911, which is now Jacksonville's City Hall) and the Morocco Temple (1910). Local charity Fresh Ministries recently[when?] restored the Klutho Apartments, in Springfield, and converted them into office space for the Community Development Corporation's Operation New Hope.[citation needed] Jacksonville has one of the largest collections of Prairie Style buildings (particularly residences) outside the Midwest.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
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  4. ^ Foley, Bill; Wood, Wayne W. (2001). The Great Fire of 1901 Published by The Jacksonville Historical Society, Jacksonville, FL
  5. ^
  6. ^ Davis, T. Frederick (1925). History of Jacksonville Florida and Vicinity 1513 to 1924. Florida Heritage Collection: The Florida Historical Society. p. 513. 

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