The Historic Jacksonville Fire


The heart burned out of the city…

But the brave people have not lost heart, and the balance of Florida should help them.


Tampa Tribune

The greatest fire in the history of Florida today lay waste the best portion of the business and residence section of this city. Starting in Cleveland’s Fiber Factory, the flames soon got entirely beyond the reach of the firemen and could not be checked in the slightest until the big Gardner building, a fireproof structure, stopped their destructive progress. The burned district extends from the waterworks to the St. John’s River, east of Laura Street and tonight al that populous section is practically a waste of smoking ashes.


In the maw of this conflagration have been flawed the most prominent buildings of the city. The Windsor, Duval, St. James and Gerard hotels are in ashes. Every bank in the city except the State Bank of Jacksonville has been destroyed. The Catholic Church has been wrecked.


The flames from their inception were fanned by a brisk wind and nothing could subdue them. Over one hundred homes in the residence district had been burned up by 4 p. m. The handsome residence of Senator J. P Tallaferro was destroyed, with all its contents. Futile attempts to stop the fire by demolishing buildings with dynamite were made by the firemen and citizens. The Western Union employees were forced to flee from their posts by the heat and all telegraphic communications was cut off for several hours.


As he saw the fire get beyond the control of all the efforts of his department, Fire Chief Haney became temporarily insane. Homeless people huddled together in the streets and saw their habitations destroyed. The city was placed under martial law before nightfall. Soldiers are guarding the ruins tonight.


The flames soon extended to the business district on Bay Street, where they swallowed up the best buildings. Appeals were sent out to neighboring cities for help. A special train from Savannah, bearing a portion of that city’s fire department, came on flying schedule and rendered valuable help.


Jacksonville via New York May 4, 1 a. m.—The flames were under control at 9 p. m. The property loses are roughly estimated at $7, 000,000. Over twenty acres is included in the burned district. Three thousand people are homeless. The only lives reported lost are those of five negro children in Hansontown. The city is in total darkness. It will be impossible to give details of the property destroyed until later.

Source:Ocala Evening Star: 5-4-1901      



Times Union

Commencing with the fiber factory, where the fire started, the loss of buildings is enormous. In addition to the fiber factory, the Cleveland Furniture Factory is destroyed.
All the residences on Beaver Street from Davis to Catherine were destroyed and the same on Ashley Street, the colored Methodist church, the First Baptist church, the Congressional church and the colored Baptist church included.

Three blocks were burned on Madison Street and then the fire went east on Duval, which was entirely wiped out as far as Catherine, the entire length of the city to Hogan’s Creek, where the fire was checked. Monroe, Cedar and Adams streets were next in the line as shown by a plan of the city and the large buildings included in these streets were, Senator Tallafarro’s residence, J. R. Parrott’s residence, Major McLauglhin’s residence, Windsor Hotel, St. James Hotel, Opera House Block, Trinity M. E. Church and all the contiguous buildings used for residence purposes.

When the fire reached Bay Street and Main Street, the entire business section of the city went down in the blaze. The most important buildings in the business section of the city which were burned are the Gardner building, the Hubbard block, the Placide Hotel, the Board of Trade building, the Elks’ building, Dr. I. Engle’s  drugstore building, the National Bank of the State of Florida, the State Bank of Florida, Commercial Bank building, police station and city jail, the Mohawk block, the Myer-Mueller block, the United States Hotel, the county court building, the Duval County Armory, the convent, the Catholic Church, the Sister MaryAnn’s Orphanage, the Law Exchange, the Law building, the office of the clerk of the circuit and criminal courts, the Columbian Hotel, the Richelieu Hotel, W. S. Ware’s building, Ebenezer Church, Cookman Institute, L. Furchgott’s house, Windsor Hotel, St. James Hotel, J. S. Fairhead’s residence, T. V. Porter’s residence, First Baptist Church, colored Methodist Church, colored Baptist Church, St. John’s Church, high school and grammar school, the entire best section of Laura and Main Street.

Bay Street buildings have been gutted from Laura Street to the Atlantic. Valdosta and Western Railway Depot, which was the last thing burned and which went, including the wharf where the Clyde Steamships from Boston land their passengers and freight.

One of the leading insurance men of the city said last night: “It is impossible to know what the loss is or how much is covered by insurance, but I believe I will make no mistake when I say that the loss will estimate between ten and fifteen millions. I do not think that one third of the loss is covered by insurance, although the insurance companies have been hit very hard.

Source: Ocala Evening Star: 5-4-1901



Almost the whole city is in ruins of the flames…Intense suffering there…Prompt relief is sent by Govonor Jennings.

The greatest fire in the history of Florida, if not in the whole south, occurred in Jacksonville last Friday, by which almost the entire city was almost destroyed. One hundred and thirty blocks comprising by far the largest and best portion of the residence and business sections of the city were completely wiped out and today are a mass of ruins. The property loss is estimated by the leading business men to reach into the millions-a conservative estimate being between twelve and fifteen million. The loss of life which would have been appalling had the fire occurred at night instead of mid-day, was not very large, but it is now known that some fifteen or twenty persons have lost their lives by the fire or by drowning into the river, into which they cast themselves to escape the devouring flames.

Beginning in the northwestern section of the city, in the Cleveland fiber factory, Corner of Beaver and West Davis Streets, the flames ate their way to the eastward, spreading north and south to the riverfront. At first confined to a few houses in the neighborhood of Cleveland factory, a strong, warm wind blowing from the north-west fanned the flames and they soon began to spread from house to house with a rapidity inconceivable to anyone, but an eye-witness. Burning shingle flying through the air started new fires in all directions and soon the city was a mass of roaring, devouring flames.

For ten long hours the brave firemen fought without hope, but at eight o’clock p. m., the wind calmed down and they were able to get it under control. Assistance was sent by the fire companies of all the neighboring cities, including Savannah and Tampa; the help thus secured the city from all annihilation.

The burned district, commencing at West Davis Street, goes east as far as Hogan’s Creek and north as far as Caroline Street, down to the St. John’s River. Of the old city, only twelve blocks escaped, forming a square in the south-west portion of the business section, being bounded on the north by Adams Street and on the east by Laura. All of Bay Street and the riverfront east of Laura was consumed.

A list of the public buildings consumed comprises every bank, but one in the city, all the churches, the county court house and jail, the Windsor, St. James, Arlington, Glenwood and Nooney’s Hotels, the opera house, the armory, the Elk club, the Jacksonville Telephone Company, the city building, all of the schools and a long list of others too numerous to mention.

At about 8 p. m. the wind died down and afforded a blessed relief. The flames had lapped up everything in their way from the Cleveland factory to the Duval Street viaduct and back on Bay Street to Laura, where the fire was gotten under control and did no other further damage.

The next morning broke on a mass of smoldering ruins where a few brief hours before had been a happy, prosperous city. Fifteen thousand people were homeless and were only too glad to have escaped the terrible conflagration with their lives, having lost all but the mere clothes on their back.The tragedy is beyond description. Such an utter destruction of a city might well cause the bravest heart of her citizens to sink with disappointment, but today, a week after the fire, we find the citizens already taking courage and they have bravely faced the future and commenced the task of rebuilding.

As usual in such cases of loss and suffering, the American people responded at once and from all parts of the country, assistance has been poured into the city. Up to today over $50,000 have been sent to relieve the distress and suffering, while carloads of clothing and food have been sent in from all sides.

The Secretary of War  at Washington sent Army tents to shelter the homeless people, and the ruined portion is being quickly converted into a canvas city.

Source: Weekly Tallahasseean: 1901



Wilbur Miller, who was attending Massey’s Business Collage in Jacksonville, has returned home, the collage having been born.

Dr. J. H. Pitman lost his office furniture, but his residence was out in Springfield and did not burn in the recent Jacksonville conflagration.

There will be a meeting of colored citizens tonight at Mount Zion M. E. Church colored (the big brick church), to raise funds for the Jacksonville sufferers. White people are invited.

Mrs. Harry Clarkson’s parents lost their home in the Jacksonville fire. The houses where Raiford and Sam Ditto, Ed Crossett, Morgan Loony and other Ocala boys lived were burned out.

Dr. Powers’ father lost his home and all of the household goods in the Jacksonville fire. Mrs. Harry Wright, formerly of this city, who was proprietress of the Glenada Hotel, lost everything.

Frank Watson, bookkeeper for the Commercial Bank, has returned from Jacksonville. He says the vaults of the Commercial Bank, of that city, opened all right and the money, books and papers were found to be in perfect condition and not a paper scorched. Mr. Watson found that his mother lost her home and all of the contents and their wife’s parents, their home, but the business, a drugstore, was not burned as first reported.

D. W. Davis returned last night from New York, where he has been for some time on business. Mr. Davis stopped in Jacksonville and being an insurance man, whose knowledge of insurance matters is highly valued, looked over the scene, in pursuance to a promise made to his insurance friends in Atlanta, where he was when he first learned of the fire. They asked him to wire them the amount of the “damage.” His telegram was brief and to the point: “Everything on your books.” He says the scene in the burned district of the city beggar’s description and is appalling in its intensity. Desolation reigns supreme. He said the fire made the cleanest sweep that he ever saw. There is comparatively no debris and in many places there was nothing left to litter the streets, the fire being so severe that it cleaned up everything as it went.

Source: Ocala Evening Star: 5-6-1901

Transcribed, Formatted and Submitted by Linda Flowers

This Page Created April 5, 2012
2012- Linda Flowers
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