@ElizaBTweetin: November 18, 1872: The Great Boston Fire of 1872
Posted on November 18, 2013
Riley Swales '17
From November 9th to November 10th of the year 1872, Boston experienced the largest urban fire in the history of the city. It is commonly referred to as The Great Boston Fire of 1872. The fire destroyed 776 buildings and a large portion of the financial district was destroyed. Altogether, the cost to repair the damage was 73.5 million dollars. The common consensus for why the fire started is that a coal spark from a steam boiler, which powered an elevator, ignited some nearby dry materials and resulted in a fire.
The fire started in the basement of a commercial warehouse on Summer Street in Boston and lasted for twelve hours, devastating sixty-five acres of Downtown Boston. It is estimated that about thirty people died. In the United States this fire still ranks as one of the most cost-devastating fires on record. The fire was so widespread that fire departments from neighboring towns decided to travel to Boston in order to help put out the flames.
Eliza Baylies Wheaton owned property just half of a city block away from where the fire destroyed hundreds of buildings. This motivated her to review her insurance policies so that if another event like the fire in Boston were to take place, she would not be financially burdened. She also noted that she proactively backed up her cashbooks and savings after the fire.
Also in her diary, Eliza mentioned that she went to Boston and saw the fire ruins. This is an accurate way to describe the way the financial district looked after it was devastated by the fire. The buildings were hollowed out by the fire, which made them resemble the Roman Forum, ancient ruins located in Rome. After the fire, there was not much left of the buildings, they were quickly rebuilt in approximately two years. This is because Boston’s commercial property owners did not give up on rebuilding the town, and did so as soon as they possibly could.
While Eliza was in Boston, she visited her safety deposit box in the Union Safe Deposit Vaults, which she discussed visiting in previous diaries. In the safety deposit box she stored important deeds and other personal records. While visiting the safety deposit box, she extracted documents because it seemed like a safest option after hearing about the fire in Boston.