On May 5, 1831, a horrific fire took place at 96 Broad Street in downtown Boston. The building contained a bakery on the first floor, and densely populated rooms in the higher stories. Some people decided to jump out windows to escape the flames, while an entire family of five lost their lives while they were asleep.
The fire broke out in the bread room on the 2nd floor, and it was reported that the first and second stores were completely engulfed in flames before an alarm had even sounded. Water was pumped from the harbor at India Street, but the tide was low at first and water was difficult to obtain. The May 11, 1831 Norwich Courier describes this terrible fire:
"A most calamitous fire broke out on Wednesday evening between 10 and 11 o'clock, in the block of buildings in Broad Street, well known as Quincy's bake house. The lower part of the southerly half of the block in which the fire originated was occupied by Mr. Maynard, as a bake house; over this was a bread room, and here we are informed the fire was first discovered. The whole building was in a very few minutes enveloped in flames. The two upper stories and a part of the second were occupied by several families comprising nearly fifty individuals, principally Irish, most of whom made their escape when the alarm was first given, in a state, approaching to nudity.
Mr. John Murphy, his wife and three children, who occupied a room in the third story, were probably smothered in their sleep, and died without the least sensation of pain. Their remains have all been found, and were decently buried yesterday afternoon at South Boston. Mr. Sullivan, wife and child, in the third story, awoke, but too late to make their escape by the stairway—they seemed completely bewildered. In vain did those in the street shout to them to make their way to the top of the house and wait for ladders; the mother seemed only intent on saving the child, and husband on saving the wife.— She accordingly wrapped the child as well as she could with bedclothes, and threw it from the window; and he letting his wife down as far he could reach, let here drop upon the pavement, and then jumped out himself.... [The baby was caught by a bystander, and the parents both survived as a man named Donovan broke their fall.]
All the tenants had a narrow escape, and some of them were severely scorched, among those number the widow Mary Boland, who, by her humane endeavors to awaken the slumberers over head, had nearly fallen a victim herself. She had thrown a cotton sheet over her shoulders and was making her way up stairs, when the flames burst forth with so much fury, that she herself was entirely enveloped, and only made her escape by the aid of a fireman, who tore the blazing covering off her shoulders.
The exertions of the fire department on this occasion is worthy of praise—it was nearly low tide and water was only to be obtained from India Street. Luckily however it was young-flood, and every moment gave them a greater supply—and it was only be their unremitted exertions from 11 till 4 o'clock, that the furious element was contained within the walls in which it first originated.
A person whose name we have not learnt, was seen to be heroically engaged in rendering his assistance; he rushed twice into through the flames and saved four children from imminent death."
Bake House Fire Site
96 Broad Street
Boston, MA 02110