100 Years Ago

HOBOKEN, NJ: June 3, 1909 — A smoky fire was discovered in Hold 5 of the freighter Marina moored at the Phoenix Lines freight pier at Seventh Street. While crew members scrambled to get hoses in place, the fire spread to the two adjoining holds and the city fire department was called. Upon arrival, Chief Dunn was faced with an advanced fire situation involving stores of rags in bales, chicory, glue and willow basketware. Flames poured from the hold and threatened to spread to the pier itself. Firemen pushed hoses deep into the blazing compartments, attempting to halt the spreading fire. With no breeze, the thick smoke hung like a blanket over the entire dock. Chief Dunn and several firemen were overcome and were rescued by brother firemen. The chief was also faced with a burst hose that sprayed water across 10 carboys of acetic acid, causing the corks to pop and noxious fumes to fill the area. With several additional lines stretched from the FDNY fireboat Thomas Willet, the stubborn fire was finally extinguished.

PORTLAND, ME: June 5, 1909 — The planing mill of Smith & Rumery was destroyed by an early-morning fire. The flames threatened an entire neighborhood filled with lumber companies. Firemen, hard pressed to hold the fire to the building of origin, were able to stop the flames and save the other structures. The mill, a large quantity of lumber and all the machinery were lost in the blaze.

CHICAGO, IL: June 6, 1909 — Two arson fires struck neighborhood churches at the same time in the early morning. Fires in both churches were set near the organs in the rear of the buildings. The first fire, in the Holiness Church, only caused $1,000 in damage, but the second fire, in the Austin Methodist Episcopal Church, caused the destruction of the entire church. Police were on scene investigating the fires.

PRESQUE ISLE, ME: June 7, 1909 — A wind-driven fire swept through 100 dwellings, more than one-quarter of the village, leaving 1,000 people homeless. Also destroyed were 10 potato storehouses, the railway station, a church and the Masonic Hall. Flaming embers landed up to a quarter-mile away, setting fires in several sections of the village at the same time.

SPRING LAKE, NJ: June 10, 1909 — Just after 2 A.M., flames broke out in The Breakers, one of the biggest waterfront hotels along the Jersey shore. Spring Lake firemen arrived to find an advanced fire condition with strong winds fanning the flames. Mutual aid was requested from Asbury Park and Belmar. The fire spread quickly to the Essex and Sussex hotels and cottages and a nearby stable. Firemen made a valiant stand, stopping the further spread and holding back the flames until the original fire building collapsed in a huge mass of charred timbers.

DETROIT, MI: June 12, 1909 — A huge section of the fifth floor of the Peninsular Stove Co. plant collapsed and crashed down through the floors below. Before the dust had settled, flames broke out, further complicating the rescue of the people trapped inside. Firemen moved in with hoses and extinguished the fire, then began the dangerous task of digging out those trapped beneath the rubble. Two men were killed, but two others were rescued from the tangled wreckage.

LAKE GEORGE, NY: June 24, 1909 — The main building of the Fort William Henry Hotel burned to the ground just after 2 A.M. The hotel was to be opened in several days, so there were no guests inside at the time of the fire. The blaze broke out in the servants' quarters under the dining room and spread rapidly. The hotel was originally built in 1856 and was extensively remodeled to accommodate 500 guests.

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.