- MAY 10TH, 1862.
noon, on Saturday, May 10th, 1862, the shingle roof of the
eastern section of the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad bridge,
between Green Island and the city, was set on fire by sparks
from a passing locomotive. A gale was blowing from the north-west,
and the wind at once carried the flaming shingles and glowing
brands to the dry roofs of the numerous buildings in the central
part of the city. An alarm was given, and the firemen and
engines quickly arrived at the east end of the burning bridge.
A futile attempt was made to throw water on the flaming structure,
but the excessive heat and flying cinders com pelled the firemen
to abandon it. An effort was made to open the draw to bar
the progress of the devouring element, but this was also unsuccessful.
Great tongues of flame leaped high above the blazing bridge,
which soon fell into the river, and parts of the burning sturcture,
floating with the current, imperiled the steamboats and the
smaller craft cabled along the wharves.
hundreds of houses were on fire. From the bridge south-eastwardly
flames were widening the area of the conflagration with such
fearful rapidity that the terrified people were scarcely able
to escape them, while some were suffocated in the streets
by the dense smoke.
stores on River Street, near the bridge, began burning, the
thoroughfare there was so darkened by smoke that it was difficult
to discern objects at the shortest distances. The high north-west
wind swept the thick clouds of lurid smoke across the city,
and covered it as with a pall. In less than an hour and a
half a broad belt of fire lay across the city, from the river
to the eastern hill. It was impossible to pass from one side
of it to the other, except by long detours, either east or
west of it. Direful and unfounded reports augmented the terribleness
of the calamity. Dwellings on the eastern hill, not directly
in the course of the fire, were saved from burning with the
utmost difficulty. At one time, on Ninth Street, the greatest
consternation prevailed. In that part of the city, it was
thought that the buildings there were not endangered, and
no precautions were taken to save them from destruction. Suddenly
brands were carried by the wind thither, and in a short time
a number of unprotected houses lay in ashes on that street.
distressing events of the long-remembered day were those in
which helpless persons became the prey of the destructive
element. Although the fire occurred at midday, when the people
were best prepared to escape, yet so rapid was its progress
and so great the panic that several persons were overtaken
and hemmed in by the flames, and were burned. Ransom S. Haight
was suffocated in the smoke on Seventh Street, where he was
burned almost beyond identification. Thomas O'Donnell, an
aged blind man, living on Green Street north of Grand Division
Street, left alone in the house, was burned in it. Zenas Cary,
an aged physician, residing at No. 29 Grand Division Street,
rescued from his burning dwelling by his faithful wife, was
fatally burned, and died on the following day at the Marshall
Infirmary. The charred remains of Mary Dunlop and child were
found in the ashes of a burned building. Numerous narrow escapes
are related by men and women who were imperiled by the rapidly
beginning of the conflagration, all human means seemed useless
to save any of the buildings in the path of the fire. As it
advanced south-east wardly, often slight changes of the wind
gave it limitations, and the strenuous efforts of the indefatigable
firemen frequently checked its progress in different directions.
The conflagration, about six o'clock, was stayed at Donohue
& Burge's carriage factory, on the north-west corner of
Seventh and Congress streets, having destroyed five hundred
and seven buildings, not including barns and out-houses, covering
an area of seventy-five acres in the central part of the city.
Viewed from Eighth Street, at night, the field of the fire
was one of no little grandeur. Here and there unquenched flames
illuminated desolated spaces, and great beds of fire glowed
among the blackened walls of the destroyed buildings. The
resonant rhythm of the steam fire-engines and the steady cadences
of the striking brakes of the hand-engines lulled to sleep
the hundreds of houseless people in the neighboring homes
of those who hospitably received them.
the larger buildings burned were the Second Presbyterian Church,
on the south-east corner of Sixth and Grand Division streets;
the Associate Presbyterian Church, on the east side of Seventh
Street, between Broadway and State Street; the North Baptist
Church, on the south-east corner of Fifth and Fulton streets;
the Home Mission, on the east side of Seventh Street, between
Broadway and State Street; the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,
on the north-east corner of State and Sixth streets; the Troy
City Bank, on the south-east corner of Four th and Grand Division
streets; the Troy Orphan Asylum, on the north side of Grand
Division, west of Eighth Street; the Church Asylum, on the
south side of Federal Street, between Sixth and Eighth streets;
and the Union Railroad depot, on the site of the present building.
Fireman and fire-engines from Albany, West Troy, Cohoes, Lansingburgh,
and Waterford, came and assisted in the difficult work of
limiting the range of the conflagration. The progress of the
fire southward along River Street was successfully opposed
by the Arba Read and Jason C. Osgood steamers; at the intersection
of Fourth and Fulton streets, the Washington Volunteer Company
checked the flames from crossing Fulton Street at that point;
and at the intersection of Broadway and Fifth Street, the
Hugh Ranken and the Empire State engine companies energetically
resisted there the advance of the fire. Elsewhere the other
companies vigorously battled with the destructive element.
value of the property destroyed was appraised at $2,677,892,
on which were insurances amounting to $1,321.874. The loss
on real estate was estimated at $1,386,080 and that on personal
property at $1,291,812; the insurance on the former being
$766,691, and that on the latter, $555,183. Fifty thousand
dollars were contributed before the end of May for the relief
of the sufferers by the people of Troy and of other places.
That amount was largely increased during the month of June.
In July, one hundred and eighty one new buildings were erected
in the burned district, and in November, six months after
the fire, all the lots on River Street, excepting two, on
which buildings had been burned, were occupied by better ones."