Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Portland Fire of 1873.

(August 2, 1873)

Burning for 24 hours, the Portland Fire of August 1873 reduced 22 blocks worth of downtown to ashes, including parts of then-Chinatown and many brick buildings housing a storefront business and apartments above or behind it. All 5 companies of Portland's volunteer firemen worked round the clock, and were aided by companies from Salem, who arrived by train, and Vancouver, who arrived by river.

Oregon Historical Society collection
Front Street looking west between Madison &
Jefferson at the First Congregational Church.

8 months earlier, in December 1872, a Chinese laundry was, most likely, set ablaze by anti-Chinese arsonists, and conflagrated, destroying a few blocks surrounding Morrison & Front. This yet to be rebuilt zone substituted as a containment device in the August 1873 Fire.

Although the elegant St. Charles Hotel was heroically spared from the flames, the volunteer firefighters proved generally disorganized, lacking the leadership of a professional fire chief. Attempts to improve Portland's fire-fighting capacities after the December 1872 fire had only resulted in a bigger, louder, 4,000 pound fire bell.

Oregon Historical Society colletion
The area affected by the fire. You can see that "old town" just south of Bursnide was spared.

Given the scale of the fire's destruction and that most of the businesses destroyed were either partially insured or not insured at all, losses amounted to a then-staggering $925,000. Portland recovered but the fire served to push the town's center away from the waterfront and further inland to the west.

No comments: