Home > Disasters

Great Fall River Fire (1843)

Destructive Fire at Fall River.

One third of the town in ashes – At three o'clock, Sunday afternoon, a most destructive fire broke out in Fall River, which raged with great fury until it destroyed a greater portion of the business quarter of the town. Owing to the ponds having been drawn off, there was at first a difficulty in getting water, and when that was obtained a great part of the hose had been destroyed by the rapid advance of the flames. The fire swept Main-Street for about half a mile. Several buildings were blown up but with little effect in arresting the flames, which caught from the sparks. The fire spread until midnight, when it was got under control; but was not wholly extinguished when the King Philip left.

Among the buildings destroyed are the Pocasset Bridge Mill, a large and valuable establishment; the Pocasset House, the Manufacturer's Hotel, the Fall River Bank building, the Savings Bank building, the Custom House, the Post Office, the Methodist Church, the Christian Union Church, the Monitor printing office, the Argus Printing office, and about two hundred other buildings including all the principle wholesale and retail stores in the Village.

We are greatly indebted to Capt. Borden, of the King Plullip, and to D. Sission of the Fall River Iron Works Company, for the particulars of the fire. Mr. Sission has allowed us to copy the letter from Mr. Borden:

FALL RIVER, July 31, 1843 – Another awful conflagration has visited us. Yesterday, at 3 o'clock, P.M., the alarm of fire was sounded, and immediately the flames were seen to [rise] forth from the very extensive cabinet warehouse and manufactory of Abner L. Westgate and several carpenters shops and piles of lumber annexed (probably caused by several boys who were flashing powder between the shop and the ware room).

The fire immediately crossed other Main street, and proceeded with at a very rapid rate, taking every building on Main Street both sides, for nearly half a mile, and was only arrested when it arrived at Major Durfee's house, on the west side of the street, and on the east side going a little past, and taking the houses of Dr. Archer, extending back to the east on all the streets which it crossed in Rock street, and on a line with the Troy Factories (which were saved), and on the west took from two to four buildings on all the streets which it crossed. The Pocasset Bridge Factory being the only one burned, though Eddy's [Garment?] Factory was considerably injured. All our public houses are burned; both bank buildings, post office and custom house; Methodist, Universalist, and Free Will Baptist meeting houses; both printing offices and all the fancy goods stores and other buildings, to the number of about two Hundred. And as to the loss, I hardly dare give an opinion; but should suppose it from two to four hundred thousand dollars.

It is impossible to state the amount of insurance in this city. The offices have not been able in ascertain themselves. The mutual office is not supposed to have suffered. The American office has about $12,000 at risk in Fall River; what portion has been destroyed has not been ascertained. The Aetna office has from $10,000 to $15,000 on goods and merchandise; what portions has been destroyed is not known. The Manufactures Mutual office has no risk upon any building that was destroyed, but several factories were on fire at times, and may have suffered some damage, for which that office will be responsible. The Washington Office will lose from $1000 to $6000.

The agencies of the Georges, Hartford and Hartford Fire Insurance offices, in this city, are untouched.

It is rumored that several lives have been lost but we think this is incorrect, as it would have been mentioned in the letter which we publish.

Hundreds of families are by this disaster deprived of shelter, food, and clothing, and the case in one which presents itself strongly to the sympathies of the charitable, in manifesting which we hope this community will not be backward.

More than a thousand persons are in this destitute condition. Many removed their furniture to what they considered places of safety, but to which the flames carried destruction. The Bristol engine hastened to the scene of conflagration and rendered very essential service, haring been the means of saving three valuable buildings.

The Star Extra, Warren Rhode Island July 3, 1843

Fall River July 3, 1843 – Dear Sir – Our Village has been visited with a terrible conflagration. It commenced yesterday afternoon during the time of divine service, along a quarter before four o'clock. It is said that it originated by the firing of a gun in the vicinity of a carpenters shop near the Unitarian Meetinghouse. The wind at the time was blowing nearly a gale from SSE.

 The flames soon communicated to two barns, and then to a large three story furniture wareroom; at this tune the fire raged to such a degree as to mock all effort to subdue it. The Methodist meetinghouse took fire, and thence the flames spread rapidly west and north sweeping Main street in both sides and in the east as far as Rock street. Almost 250 buildings fire destroyed. Among them the Pocasset Factory – three meetinghouses – two Hotels and three Printing Offices – the Custom House - Post Office, and all the Dry Goods stores on Main street. The ruins extend from the Episcopal Church on the south, to the residence of Bradford Puree on the north. The fire worked to the windward very fast, and it was with much difficulty that the Episcopal Church was saved. The wind providentially veering to the west changed the current of the flame and caused it to be arrested.

It was got under about 10 o'clock. It is impossible to state with any accuracy the loss. It is feared that it will not fall far short of a million of dollars. Probably nearly 2000 people had no home of their own last night. The dwelling houses in which I lived soon took fire, and I succeeded in saving the largest portion of my furniture, books, &c.

There has been a melancholy loss of life. I have heard of four cases of death, one of which was produced by fright. It is feared that there may have been more. I do not vouce for the accuracy of the reports. Yours.

$100,000 of the property destroyed is supposed to be insured at the Bristol Mutual Fire Insurance Office.


Source: The Daily Atlas, July 4, 1843

Copyright © 2020 CelebrateBoston.com