New York City (NYC)
The Fire of 1835
By 1835, New York City (NYC) was already on its way to becoming a bustling metropolis, with the construction of the Erie Canal ten years before came a sudden burst of economic activity: the shipping prices had gone down by 90 percent and trade was booming. The building of the Erie Canal not only brought business to New York, but also an increasing population. Wooden houses and building were quickly constructed to meet the demands of the city's residents. As a result, the water supply system was inadequate and little precautions were taken to prevent fires.
So it happened that when the legendary fire of 1835 broke out on a cold December evening at a warehouse building on 25 Merchant Street (now Beaver Street), local fire fighters struggled to put it out. Within 2 hours, it enveloped the financial district in a 17 block radius with wild fire, exacerbated by winds coming from the northwest. Water supplies were running low; to make matters more desperate, -17 degree weather had caused a thick sheet of ice to form over the East River. Even after firefighters were able to cut through the ice, the water was so cold that it would freeze in the pumps as it traveled down the hose. Because of the lack of advanced firefighting techniques, one common practice during the time was to use gun powder to level buildings that could not be saved. This method, although seemingly counterproductive, was very effective in minimizing the spread of fires. However, because the city's resources had already been depleted by a fire two days earlier, this technique could not be used. The following day, marines from the Brooklyn Navy Yard arrived with the gun powder necessary to finally end this frantic fire. It has been estimated that the fire cost NYC between $20 to $30 million dollars in damages.
Remarkably, only 2 deaths were documented after the fire. As a result of the economic boom fueled by the building of the Erie Canal, the City could afford to rebuild the area with stone and brick buildings-which were considered less vulnerable to fires. The fire also prompted the construction of the Croton Dam and Aqueduct completed in 1840, bringing much needed abundant fresh water supply to NYC residents.
Visit Additional Major NYC Fires:
Fire of 1776 General Slocum Fire (1904) Triangle Shirtwaist Factory (1911) Bankers Trust Building (1993)
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