Raleigh Fire Department History

1830-1849

1830

One fire company protecting one square mile and 1,700 residents.

1830-31

City Guard member exempted from fire company duty. Legislative session for 1830 to 1831 passes an act to incorporate the City Guards of Raleigh, which includes this provision:

III. And be it further enacted, That the members of the City Guards shall be exempt from performing duty in any fire company that is, or may be established in the city of Raleigh; and should any of them voluntarily enroll themselves in any such fire company, they shall still be liable to perform
duty in the said City Guards.

Source: Acts Passed by the General Assembly of the State of North Carolina at the Session of 1830-31, Chapter LXVI, p. 59.

1831

State House in Union Square burns. Alarm is given about 7 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, though all attempts to extinguish the fire prove fruitless. Efforts of bystanders are directed toward the protection of the Public Offices on the square and the adjacent private buildings, and to the preservation of the official archives. No other buildings are damaged and all archive materials, including the Legislative records, are saved. The origin of the fire is not certainly known, but the general impression is carelessness on the part of a worker soldering a new Zinc roof. The building is entirely consumed within about two hours of the alarm. Wells, buckets, and one pump are all firemen have at their disposal. Adding to tragedy was destruction of a marble statue of Washington by Italian sculptor Antonia Canova, one of the masterpieces of the world. (June 21, 1831)rr23jun31

Transcription of news stories:

Raleigh Register

Thursday, June 23, 1831

Awful Conflagration! It is our painful and melancholy duty again to announce to the public, another appalling instance of loss by fire, which will be deeply felt and lamented by everything individual in our State. It is nothing less than the total destruction of the Capitol of the State, located in this City! Of that notable edifice, with its splendid decorations, nothing now remains, but the blackened walls and smouldering ruins. The State Library is also entirely consumed, and the Statue of Washington, that proud monument of national gratitude, which was our pride and glory, is so mutilated and defaced, that none can behold it but with mournful feelings, and the conviction involuntarily forces itself upon their minds, that the loss is one which cannot be repaired. The most active exertions were made to rescue this chef d’ouvre, of Canova, from the ravages of the devouring element, nor were they desisted from until the danger became imminent.

The alarm was given about seven o’clock on Tuesday morning, and it was presently evident that all attempts to extinguish the fire, would provide perfectly fruitless. The efforts of the by-standers were then directed towards the protection of the Public Offices on the square, and the adjacent private buildings, and to the preservation of the official archives. We are happy to add, that none of the former were injured, and that the latter, including the Legislative records, were all saved. The beautiful grove of Oaks, of which the Capitol was the centre ornament, did more towards staying the progress of the flames than any human effort, and inculcates most forcibly the propriety of cultivating shade trees in Cities, on the score of security from fire alone, to say nothing of other considerations. Seldom has the eye witnessed so awful a spectacle as the vast building in one concentrated blaze, streaming from every window and a vast column from the roof, forming together a scene not adequately to be described.

The origin of the fire is not certainly known, but we believe the general impression is that it was the result of most culpable carelessness on the part of a man who had been employed to assist in soldering a new Zinc roof, as he was seen that morning carrying up a coal of fire between two shingles considerably ignited, a spark from which, in all probability, fell amongst some combustible matter between roof and ceiling, which took fire while the hands were at breakfast.

Considering the rapidity with which the fire progressed, it is an alleviating circumstance that the public papers were all secured. Beside the papers of the Clerks of the two Houses of the Legislature, and those of the Comptroller & of the Clerk of Supreme Court, the fine copy of Stewart’s Painting of the Father of our Country, and some articles of furniture of the Legislative Chambers, were preserved from the flames.

It will be seen from the accompanying Resolutions, that the Congregation and pew-holders of the Presbyterian Church, with laudable public spirit, have tendered to the Governor the use of their Buildings for the temporary accommodation of the legislature.

Raleigh Register

Thursday, June 30, 1831

Destruction of the Capitol

In announcing this melancholy catastrophe in our last, we omitted in the hurry of the moment, several particulars which may be deemed not uninteresting.

The opinion then expressed as to the origin of the fire, is still entertained, though there is some doubt whether it was communicated by a spark from the burning shingles which were proved to have been carried upon the roof that morning, or was caused by the pot used for preparing the solder, having become so heated as to melt the Zinc, and thereby igniting the wooden sheeting with which the top of the house was covered. From one of these causes it must have proceeded. The building was entirely consumed in about two hours from the period at which the alarm was given. The walls were left standing, but a part of them have since tumbled down. Indeed such seems to have been their original precarious construction, that many believe, had not the Capitol been burnt, they would at no distant day have given way, from the pressure of their own eight, and perhaps have involved a serious loss of human life in their fall.

Since the fire, efforts have been made, and with success, to exhume the fragments of the Statute, which were broken off by the falling timbers and buried beneath the ruins. We are pleased to add, that the head has been recovered, having received but slight injury; also one arm and one leg are nearly perfect. The remaining portion of the Statue exhibits however such a tendency to crumble, that we fear its disjecta membra can never be made to adhere.

Nothing was saved from the Library no could any attempt for that purpose made, for reason of the suffocating smoke which filled the room. It was in its infancy, and the loss can be easily repaired, with one or two exceptions. We allude to the collection of our old Legislature Journals, brought down in almost unbroken succession from the year 1715, to present day. Lawson’s History of the State, valuable only for its antiquity, was also burnt. This is a very thin quarto, which was purchased by the State at the sale of a private library, a few years since, for about $70.

Our public Officers, particularly the Secretary of State and Comptroller, have an Herculean task to perform in reducing to order the chaotic confusion into which their papers have been thrown. The documents belonging to the Clerks of the two Houses and some of the Comptroller’s papers are mixed with those of the Secretary of State; the attempt therefore to hunt up at present any particular record would be nearly as hopeless a task as to look for a needle in a hay-stack.

Upon a review of all the circumstances connected with this unfortunate affair, it is no more than an act of justice in us to say, that so far as we have had an opportunity of consulting public opinion, the sympathy of the community is strongly enlisted in behalf of the enterprizing contractor, Mr. Bragg. The entire work would have been finished the day after the accident happened, and his contract would have been fully completed with.

Indeed, he had done all that it was his particular province to superintend, ten [?] days before, and was only waiting to have the zinc nails soldered to give up the work to the Commissioners.

Such a desire has been discovered, amongst the numerous individuals, who have visited the ruins, to obtain pieces of the Statue for preservation, that it has been found necessary to enclose it, so to prevent further mutilation.

The investigation into the fire includes a committee that hears testimony about how the fire started.

Wrote the committee which subsequently heard testimony on the fire's origin, William Bragg--the contractor hired by the Legislature to renovate the State House and "plate" the roof to "render" as "fire proof"--was "at the eve of completing it in a very masterly manner, perhaps unequalled by any undertaking of a similar kind in the United States" and his work would've been completed "in a few hours."

The committee never concluded whether the fire was caused by (a.) hot coals carried onto the roof between two wooden shingles by one of Bragg's subcontractors, (b.) a soldering pot overheating the wooden planks beneath the new zinc roof or (c.) was an "act of an incendiary which we have no evidence."

Legislators reimbursed Bragg his performance bond of $2000, with the condition that the contractor waive all rights to any other payments, as well as paying him "the sum which he had expended for materials used in covering the Capitol lately destroyed by fire; but he should not be paid the full sum specified in the contract, nor shall he be paid for the skills, labour, or attention bestowed in the performance of his work." ruh, p. 235

The State House fire and a series of other destructive fires in the early 1830s raises the consciousness of city, county, and state governments. The new State Capitol, completed in 1840, is constructed of granite. Both the 1837 County Courthouse and 1840 City Hall and Market House are built of brick. Also, several businesses on the first block of Fayetteville Street that burned in 1833 are rebuilt with brick. yb84

1832

Fire destroys 30 buildings downtown. Citizens are aroused around 4:00 a.m. Fire first found in a millinery store on the east side of Fayetteville Street. The fire engine is put to work, but blasting is ultimately required to stop progress of flames. One of the buildings blown up is the same house as destroyed in June 1816 fire. (January 7, 1832)rr07jan32

Fire company formed. Reports the Weekly Raleigh Register on May 4, 1832:

"New Fire Company. At a meeting of the citizens of Raleigh at the Courthouse on Saturday last, the City Fire Company, consisting of forty members, was newly formed; and at a meeting of the Company on Tuesday for the purpose of electing the officers, E. P. Guion was chosen Captain; Thomas Cobbs, A. B. Tench, J. E. Lumsden, and Wm. Thompson Lieutenants; Jesse Brown, Treasurer, and James McKimmon, Clerk. The present fire engine will undergo a thorough repair, and the company suggests to the Commissioners of the City, the propriety of procuring a new engine." (April 28, 1832)rr(w)04may32

Fire destroys several buildings on Fayetteville Street. Alarm is given about 2 a.m., when the blaze is discovered "in the building at the corner of Fayetteville and Hargett streets, owned by Richard Smith Esq. and occupied by himself as a Merchant, and by Mr. M. Hardford, Tailor." Despite use of blasting to blow up houses and the "small Engine," every building on Fayetteville Street is destroyed between Hargett Street and the Newbern Bank. (September 27, 1832)rr27sep32

Arson is investigated. Reports the Raleigh Register: " Robbery and Arson! It was stated by us last week, that the impression was very general in this community, that the recent calamitous Fire with which we had been visited, was the work of an Incendiary. What was then belief, is now, a well substantiated fact. Ever since the Fire occurred, suspicion has attached to an individual, named Benjamin F. Seaborn, who was known to have slept that night in the counting room of the Store, where it originated; and the suspicion has been strengthening daily from the thoughtless expenditure of money by the person above named. On Saturday night last, it was ascertained that he had that evening, paid away [?] amongst which was a $5 South Carolina note, believed by Mr. Smith to be part of the money which he had in his Store, when he left it on the night it was burnt. Upon this statement of circumstances, a warrant was issued for the apprehension of Seaborn, and he was accordingly taken at a late hour of the night and committed to jail for examination on Monday. When arrested, there was only about $24 in money, found on his person, but in one of the folds of his pocketbook, a memorandum was discovered, which doubtless led to the developments that have since taken place. This memorandum consisted simply of letters and figures, and was as follows:

  • NC $220
  • VA $100
  • SC $70
  • US $255
  •  28
    -----------
  •  $673

On the next morning (Sunday,)a gentleman visited Seaborn in jail, and told him of the discovery of the memorandum, and its supposed connection with the fire, agreeing as it did with Mr. Smith's recollection of certain sums in his possession on that ill-fated evening. This interview resulted in a confession on the part of the prisoner, in which he denied any knowledge of, or participation in, the Arson, but admitted that while the Fire was raging, a negro man, whom he named, came to him, and having extorted a promise of secrecy, delivered to him a sum of money, saying he might have the whole, with the exception of $50. On going to the spot designated, about three miles from town, where the prisoner had been at work, the packaged was easily discovered. The sum thus obtained, together with what the prisoner had spent since the fire, corresponds with the memorandum found upon him, and copied above. Mr. Smith had in his Store nearly $4000, but it is not probable that more of the it was taken than has been found; as it was deposited in different parts of the Store, and in unusual places, known perhaps only to the Proprietor. In consequence of the declarations of the prisoner, negro Harry, the property of Mr. Smith, was immediately arrested, and committed for examination."

"On Monday morning, Seaborn's examination took place, and we have rarely witnessed more intense interest than was executed on the occasion-- every part of the Court-house being crowded! The Attorney-General attended in person and conducted the examination, which being closed, the prisoner was fully committed for trail at the ensuing term of our Superior Court, on a charge of Robbery and Arson. Negro Harry was then examined, but the evidence being deemed insufficient to justify his commitment, he was discharged on the recognizance of his owner. We have endeavored in this noticed to avoid as much as possibly going into the testimony of witnesses, as the whole matter will hereafter undergo a regular judicial investigation. The Prisoner is a young man of presentable appearance, rather good person, and has been in this city and vicinity since June last, in the capacity of a brick mason. He is, we understand, from Cumberland county. It is property to add, that no connection has been traced between this Fire, and the more recent attempt to involve our City in ruins." (October 12, 1832)rr

1833

Fire destroys several buildings. Blaze is discovered in second story of Casso's old Tavern, a building occupied by Captain Thomas Hobbs as a Coach-maker's shop. By the time citizens are assembled, the flames cannot be extinguished and spread to the book establishment of Messrs. Turner and Hughes. To save the entire block of buildings on the east side of Fayetteville street, two small houses are blown up to arrest the progress of the flames at the dwelling of Mr. John Stuart. After the building fragments are dragged away and considerable space is cleared, the Engine is brought to play upon the scorching roof and sides of Mr. Stuart's dwelling. Losses, as listed in the June 18, 1833 edition of The Raleigh Register:

  • Thomas Cobbs - His Coach shop, office adjoining, the buildings occupied by Turner and Hughes, as a Bookstore, and by Benj. S. King, as a Dry Goods Tore. Also, a heavy stock of carriage Timber, Leather, all his Tools and a good deal of work, among which was a new Carriage just completed and ready for delivery. His loss, exclusive of the buildings, cannot be less than #4,000. Several persons lost carriages sent for repair, among whom were Judge Nash, of Hillsborough and Col. Wm. Hinton, of this county. The Rail Road Company also lost a handsome Car body.
  • Turner & Hughes - Between four and six thousand dollars worth of Stock, and a considerable amount damaged, by being thrown from the windows.
  • Benjamin S. King - Between two and three thousand dollars worth of goods.
  • Williams & Haywood - A quantity of Tin, Glass, Nails, &c. stored with Mr. King.
  • Dr. Rufus Haywood - A small shop occupied by William Smith, Barber
  • Bernard Dufray - A valuable wooden building, occupied by him as a Jewellery [sic] Store, together with seven or eight hundred dollars worth of its contents.
  • William White - The house occupied by J. C. Stedman, as a Jewellery [sic] Store.
  • Col. Wm. Polk - A small building occupied by John G. Marshall, as a grocery.
  • John G. Marshall - About $300 worth of Stock.
  • John Stuart - A tenement occupied by Wm. W. Taylor, Merchant Tailor. His dwelling house also damaged.
  • Several Merchants also lost more or less in removing their goods, but none of them any serious amount. Not one dollar was insured! (June 16, 1833)rr18jun33

1834

Legislative act by 1934 grants Intendant of Police authority to appoint a captain of the fire company and exempt from service men above 60 years of age.no26apr42

1838

Raleigh Commissioners adopt building regulations designed as fire prevention measures. One forbids construction of any wooden structures in first block of Fayetteville Street, recently destroyed by fire. Second prohibits burning of shavings or other materials in street. Third regulates stove and hearth construction in both private and public buildings, with provision for regular inspections by City Constables as to their safety. yb84

1839

Methodist Church at corner of Edenton and Dawson burns. The alarm is sounded about 5 p.m. and in less than hour the entire building is consumed. Nothing is saved but a few benches. (December 18, 1839)rr21dec39

1840

One fire company protecting one square mile and 2,240 residents.

Fire company membership solicited in January 31 edition of The Raleigh Register: The Act of the General Assembly for the better protection of the City of Raleigh from losses by fire, provides that a Fire Company be annually established in the following manner: The Intendant of Police and Commissioners shall, in the month of January, enroll the free white male inhabitants of 21 years of age and upwards, and being thus enrolled, the said Intendant and Commissioners shall publicly invite such citizens as choose to volunteer their services to form said Fire Company, to consist of forty members. This invitation is, therefore, thus publicly maid, and it is hoped will be promptly met, by signifying assent to the Clerk of the Board. In case a sufficient number of members do not office their services before the last Saturday in February, the Act directs that the Intendant and Commissioners shall, on that day, make a draft from the enrollment, of such number of men as shall be wanting to form said Company. J. Gales, Intendant of Police. January 25, 1840." (January 31, 1840)

Raleigh Fire Company formed. Reports the March 10 edition of the Raleigh Register: "At a meeting of the Citizens held at the Courthouse on the 29th for the purpose of newly organizing the above Company, agreeably to Act of Assembly, at which the Intendant of Police presided, after enrolling the volunteers who had offered, the remainder were drafted, and the meeting adjourned to Saturday last, when the Company met for the purpose of electing their officers." The officers:

  • Thomas M. Oliver, Captain
  • Everard Hall, First Lieutenant
  • W. H. Johns, Second Lieutenant
  • R. L. Cayes, Third Lieutenant
  • Joseph Betts, Forth Lieutenant
  • John H. Hutchkins, Secretary
  • Jesse Brown, Treasurer. (March 13, 1840)rr10mar40

Two new water pumps installed on Fayetteville and Hillsborough streets.

1841

Raleigh Paper Mill on Crabtree Creek destroyed by fire. The mill is burned to the ground. (February 11, 1841)rr16feb41

Several buildings burn, including a house, dormitory, stable, and ice house. The Friday night fire starts in a stable owned by Mr. Ellen and Mr. Bevers. The first supposedly starts from a candle, "used by a party of negroes who are believed to have been gaming in the stable loft that night," reports the Raleigh Register, as cited by the Mecklenburg Jeffersonian on May 25. Thirteen horses were in the stable, five of which were killed, "all efforts to get them out proving impotent."

Also destroyed were:

  • Property of "Misses Pulliam":
    • Two-story dwelling "running back and covering a spacious area, occupied as a House of Private Entertainment",
    • Two-story dormitory that was "blown up," separated from the dwelling by a passageway,
    • Large ice house, "well filled",
    • All the outhouses,
    • Quantity of bacon, flour, etc.
  • Property of Ellen & Bevers:
    • two horses
    • a "Sulkey"
    • a quantity of horse feed, bridles and saddles
    • "several barrels of liquor lost in removing it from their grocery."
  • Property of John Rorke:
    • "large stable and granary, containing 50 barrels of corn."
  • Property of Mark Tate:
    • "a fine blooded stallion."
  • Property of Mr. Adams:
    • "a horse belonging to a gentleman of Johnston, whose name we have forgotten."
  • Property of William H. Pully:
    • a "carry-all."
  • Property of Dirk Linderman:
    • "a large parcel of book-binders' tools."

Details of the fire were printed in the May 20 edition of the Hillsborough Recorder. Notes the story, "the spacious boarding house of Misses Pulliam" was "consumed by fire." It originated in the "loft of a stable in the rear" and, "which being filled with hay and other combustible materials," "burnt with great rapidity." The fire soon spread to the kitchen, and "thence to the main building." Blasting was used to control the fire. "By blowing up the building on the south, aided by the stillness of the night, the farther progress of the flames was arrested." Of the "party of negroes" who were believed to have been "gaming in the stable loft," one had since been arrested and "committed to jail." (May 16, 1841)see citations


Buildings at corner of Hargett and Fayetteville streets burn. Fire engine hose breaks and water begins flowing along the unpaved street. Quick-thinking firemen begin scooping up hand- and bucket-fulls of resulting mud and "dashing it against the walls of the threatened store," form "a non-conductor, impervious to heat." The fire is extinguished and the heroic bands of volunteers is dubbed "the mud company" by grateful citizens. wch

1843

Second Fire Company formed, later named Perseverance Fire Company. The officers:

  • J. H. Ennis, Captain
  • S. L. Tucker, 1st Lieutenant
  • James Crumlet, 2nd Lieutenant
  • M. A. Pendergast, 3rd Lieutenant
  • Hugh McBane, 4th Lieutenant
  • Thomas L. Jump, Secretary
  • William C. Upchurch, Treasurer. (March 7, 1843)reg(sw)07mar43

Second hand engine purchased, named Perseverance. (by April 14, 1893)

1848

Raleigh & Gaston Railroad engine house burns. The fire is reported about 10:30 p.m. at the "extensive brick building," where the roof is soon aflame and beginning to collapse. Four locomotives are damaged. (February 25, 1848)rr01mar48

1849

Fire Company organized, per legislative requirement for annual reorganization. This story appeared in the March 2 edition of the Raleigh Times:

RALEIGH FIRE COMPANY.

Agreeably to previous notice, a meeting was held at the City Hall, on Saturday afternoon last, when the requisite number having volunteered, a Fire Company of forty members was formed, of which Alexander McPheeters was elected Captain. We did not obtain a list of other officers. We have no doubt the Company will be an efficient one--but their chief difficulty, in case of fire, will be that the town is not properly supplied with water. Ought not our City Fathers to look to it, and make it more plenty, if practiable?rt02mar49

[ Legeros, 4/25/17: Does this imply that only one fire company was operating in Raleigh by 1849 And that the "two fire companies operating two fire engines" had ceased by this time, or was short-lived after the second fire engine was delivered in 1843? ]

Three "potentially serious" blazes occur. (March 1849)wch

Cotton gin, stables, and carriage house of Henry Mordecai burn. The contents of the buildings are also destroyed, along with five bales of cotton. The fire is believed to have been started "from a coal supposed to have been dropped by the pip of an old negro woman in one of the buildings when on the look for a hen's nest." (April 25?, 1849)rr24apr49



Abbreviations

[AA]   Aircraft accident
[AI]   Apparatus incident
[EF]   Early fire
[HM]   Haz-mat incident
[MA]   Mutual Aid
[MF]   Major fire
[RA   Railway accident
[TF]   Tanker fire
[TR]   Technical rescue
[UD]   USAR deployment
[UF]   Unusual fire
[UI]   Unusual incident
[WE]   Weather event

Sources

ar   City of Raleigh Annual Report
bd   City of Raleigh budget documents
cvh   Cameron Village: A History 1949-1999, Nan Hutchins, Sprit Press, 2001
cad City of Raleigh Auditor's Office
ccm / cm   City Council Minutes / City Minutes
ccor   1792-1892, The Centennial Celebration of Raleigh, NC, Kemp D. Battle, Edwards and Broughton, 1893
cer   Chief Engineer's Report
dah   North Carolina Department of Archives and History
dahni   North Carolina Department of Archives and History News and Observer index
fp   City of Raleigh Fire Protection Study
hr   Historical Raleigh with Sketches of Wake County and its Important Towns, Moss N. Amis, 1912
oh   Oral History
mp   Morning Post
nc   North Carolinian
no   News and Observer
noi   News and Observer Index
pb   Peter Brock
pph   Pullen Park History
rla   Raleigh Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary scrapbooks
rpu   Raleigh Fire Department Photo Unit records
rr   Raleigh Register
rt   Raleigh Times
ruh   Raleigh: An Unorthodox History
yb84   Raleigh Fire Department 1984, Raleigh Fire Department, Taylor Publishing, 1984
yb02+   Raleigh Fire and Rescue: 1984-2002, Raleigh Fire Department, Taylor Publishing, 2002, plus additional historical information also compiled by the Raleigh Fire Department around 2002.
wch   Wake: Capital County of North Carolina - Volume 1, Prehistory Through Centennial, Elizabeth Reid Murray, Capital County Publishing, 1983


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