Great Fire of New York

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Italic text

This article is about the 1835 fire. For the fire during the American Revolution, see Great Fire of New York (1776).
Great Fire of New York, 1835
April 1836 image of the Great Fire of New York
1836 image of the fire
View of the Great Fire in New York, December 16–17, 1835, as seen from Williamsburg, Nicolino Calyo
As seen from Williamsburg

The Great Fire of New York was an extensive fire that took place in New York City in 1835. The fire covered 17 city blocks and destroyed hundreds of buildings. The fire killed two people and cost an estimated $20 million in property damage.


The fire began on the evening of December 16, 1835 in a five-story warehouse at 25 Merchant Street, now known as Beaver Street,[1] at the intersection of Hanover Square, Manhattan[2] and Wall Street. As it spread, gale-force winds blowing from the northwest towards the East River proved to be a great obstacle in containing the fire. At the time of the fire, major water sources including the East River and the Hudson River were frozen solid in temperatures as low as −17 °F (−27 °C). Firefighters reported seeing the conflagration as far as Philadelphia, approximately 80 miles away.

Firefighters were forced to drill holes through ice to access water, which later froze in the hoses and pipes. Attempts were made to deprive the fire of fuel by demolishing surrounding buildings, but at first there was insufficient gunpowder in Manhattan. Later in the evening, Marines returned with gunpowder from the Brooklyn Navy Yard and began to blow up buildings in the fire's path.

An investigation did not assess the blame and reported that the fire was caused by a burst gas pipe, ignited by a coal stove.


At this point the fire covered 50 acres (200,000 m2), 17 blocks of the city, and had destroyed between 530 and 700 buildings. This part of the city is now known as Coenties Slip, an area between the East River and Maiden Lane in the north and William Street in the west.[3] The estimated damage at the time was valued at twenty million dollars, and two people were killed.[4]

According to an account published in the History of New York:,[5] "many of the stores destroyed in the fire were new, with iron shutters and doors and copper roofs. When they burned, witnesses described appearance of immense iron furnaces in full blast. The heat at times melted the copper roofing, and the liquid ran off in great drops. A gale blew towards the East River. Wall after wall was heard tumbling like an avalanche. Fiery tongues of flame leaped from roof and windows along whole streets, and seemed to be making angry dashes at each other. The water of the bay looked like a vast sea of blood. The bells rang for a while and then ceased. Both sides of Pearl Street and Hanover Square were at the same instant engulfed in flames."

Another report gives a colorful account of the damage:

A most awful conflagration occurred at New York on the 15th of December, by which 600 buildings were destroyed, comprising the most valuable district of the city, including the entire destruction of the Exchange, the Post Office, and an immense number of stores. The fire raged incessantly for upwards of fifteen hours. The shipping along the line of wharfs suffered greatly; several vessels were totally destroyed. The property consumed is estimated at 20,000,000 dollars.[6]

It also praises the resilience of the population recovering from the catastrophe:

In this midst of this terrible visitation, however, it is consolatory to see the elastic energy of the people. Instead of wasting their time in despondency over this frightful desolation, the whole population seems to on the alert to repair the mischief.[6]


Recovery meant improved buildings, which would require financing. Negotiations were swiftly undertaken, and the cooperativeness of banks was crucial in preventing an economic disaster:

Plans of rebuilding on an improved scale, and modes of borrowing money for that purpose, on sound securities, are under arrangement. The energy of the inhabitants, and the ready manner in which the banks had offered to make advances to the different insurance companies, as well as to private individuals, would avert, it was expected, a commercial crisis.[6]

The fire caused the destruction and subsequent bankruptcy of several insurance companies, slowing the processing of insurance claims. The fire occurred in the middle of an economic boom caused by the recent opening of the Erie Canal, and the destroyed wooden buildings were quickly replaced by larger stone and brick ones that were less prone to fire. The fire also prompted construction of a new municipal water supply, now known as the Old Croton Aqueduct, and a reform and expansion of the fire service. 23 of New York's 26 insurance companies went out of business[7] and Hartford, Connecticut based insurers came to dominate the New York fire insurance market. Today, Hartford is still known as the "Insurance Capital of the World.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^
  2. ^ "Heroes of Ground Zero: FDNY - A History]". Retired Site - PBS Programs - PBS. 
  3. ^ Exhibit Details Devastation of Years Past
  4. ^ "New York's Great Fire of 1835". 
  5. ^ "History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise, and Progress". 
  6. ^ a b c Gentleman's Magazine, by "Sylvanus Urban," Vol. V, New Series, January–June 1836 (London: William Pickering, John Bowyer Nichols & Son, 1836), p. 196. Accessed 19 March 2012.
  7. ^ "THE GREAT FIRE OF 1835". New York Post. 16 November 2007. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 40°42′25″N 74°00′36″W / 40.707°N 74.010°W / 40.707; -74.010