Rekindles: April 1999

If a significant fire or other emergency occurred 100 years ago in your community, or if your fire department's 100th anniversary is coming up, please drop us a line for possible inclusion in "Rekindles" in an upcoming issue. April 1, 1899: SAN...


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April 25, 1899: PHILADELPHIA - An explosion of 75 gallons of benzoline tore through the two-story laboratory at the Frank H. Fleer & Co. chewing gum factory. Two men were killed and many injured. Buildings adjoining the structure on both sides were leveled by the explosion. Arriving firemen were faced with a growing fire situation, several collapsed buildings and numerous injured civilians. One worker was blown through the roof and landed, unconscious, on another building.

TIME CAPSULE

APRIL 11, 1899: FIRE DESTROYS VANDERBILT MANOR

"Idle Hour," the country home of William K. Vanderbilt Jr., caught fire during the early morning hours. The huge Queen Anne home was surrounded by a large amount of property and was protected by a tall iron fence with two large gates. It was situated near the Long Island Sound in a wealthy area of Long Island, NY, overlooking the Connetquot River, over 100 yards away.

The blaze broke out at about 3:45 A.M. while the son of the owner and his bride, on their honeymoon, were sleeping. The rest of the household staff of 12 servants were also fast asleep. The fire seemed to start near the furnace in the cellar underneath the home's library. A watchman noticed the fire and roused the sleeping occupants, who had to run for their lives.

Meanwhile, an estate employee galloped on horseback westward to East Islip, shouting "Fire! Fire!" The local volunteer firehouse was locked, but the blacksmith next door was awakened by the alarm. His son ran and opened the building while the blacksmith rang the town's fire bell. The remainder of the volunteers responded and started out toward the burning estate. Also summoned were the Sayville firemen, whose hose wagon was first on the scene. They were quickly followed by the East Islip fire chief and his 20 men and apparatus, then by the Sayville ladder company.

Unfortunately, with the delayed alarm, the long distance to travel, the locked gates and defects in the 1,000 feet of fire hose stored on the estate, there was little the firemen could do. The large wooden house was a wall of fire. The radiant heat defied the streams of water being delivered by the firemen.

By 6:30 A.M., firemen were wetting down the ashes of the once splendid home. Only two chimneys stood amid the smoldering rubble. The loss of the structure, a valuable library, family heirlooms and paintings, was estimated at $250,000 to $300,000. Speculation as to the causes ranged from arson to a defective flue.

Paul Hashagen


Compiled by Paul Hashagen