100 Years Ago

PITTSBURGH, PA: SEPT. 1, 1909 — Five firemen were injured, one seriously, and damage estimated at a half-million dollars resulted after a fire in the transfer and storage houses of J.A. Blanck in the East End section. Flames spread rapidly to a number of adjoining buildings and collapsing walls destroyed the adjacent hotel.

UPPER SPRINGFIELD, NJ: SEPT. 2, 1909 — One of the oldest and most interesting landmarks in the state, the country meeting house of the Society of Friends, was destroyed by a fast-moving fire. The building, erected in 1727, had borne the marks of British cannon fire on its stout wooden doors from their unsuccessful attempt to force the church open during the Revolution. The blaze began when workmen started a bonfire to burn materials gathered during cleanup. Sparks carried by the wind ignited the church.

POPLAR BLUFF, MO: SEPT. 5, 1909 — The Reynolds Hotel and 30 businesses in the central part of town were destroyed by a massive fire. The wind-driven flames were more than the firemen could handle, even after numerous mutual aid departments arrived. Many firemen were overcome battling the blaze that could be brought under control only when the wind changed direction.

CLEVELAND, OH: SEPT. 7, 1909 — The explosion of an ammonia tank seriously damaged the Cleveland Provisions Co. and trapped a worker behind a wall of flames. The fire began in the engine room and spread to the nearby tank, causing its explosion. One man was driven from his workplace and took refuge above. A ladder was moved into position and the man was rescued from the flames.

ROCHESTER, NY: SEPT. 17, 1909 — Fire followed three explosions inside Sordham's Liquor Store on Main Street. Just as the early-morning fire was discovered, the entire front of the store was blown out by a powerful explosion. No one was injured and the damage was placed at $25,000.

TAMPA, FL: SEPT. 23, 1909 — An early-morning fire swept the Tampa-Havana Lumber Co., destroying thousands of feet of lumber. Flames extended to the Florida Citrus Exchange, where orange-washing and sorting machines were lost. The origin of the fire was not established and the damage was estimated at $100,000.

WASHINGTON, DC: SEPT. 25, 1909 — A fire originating in the Executive Office Building furnace room threatened the White House as flames traveled up a flue and ignited the roof of the nearby structure. Quick action by DC firemen held the blaze to the original building, which was under renovation. The blaze occurred when a fire that was started to help dry fresh plaster on the furnace room walls ignited the wall and spread upward.

CHICAGO, IL: SEPT. 28, 1909 — Six men were killed and a dozen were seriously injured when an outbound passenger train struck the rear of a stock train. The dead men were mostly members of the stock train crew who were asleep in the caboose. The passenger train had just rounded a sharp curve when it saw the stock train only yards ahead. The engineer applied the emergency brake and the crew leapt from the train just before it plowed into the stock train. Four cars telescoped and the wreckage caught fire. Responding firemen had to perform many difficult extrications from the burning wreckage.

PAUL HASHAGEN, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a retired FDNY firefighter who was assigned to Rescue Company 1 in Manhattan. He is also an ex-chief of the Freeport, NY, Fire Department. Hashagen is the author of FDNY 1865-2000: Millennium Book, a history of the New York City Fire Department, and other fire service history books.