On July 19th, 1845, New York City caught fire. It started in a whale oil warehouse in lower Manhattan and spread quickly, eventually engulfing warehouses full of explosives. The fire burned for over eight hours, and when it was finally put out, 30 people had died.
The fire was commemorated in popular prints in the 1880s, two of which currently held by the New York Public Library:
I came across the fire while trying to figure out the names of public health institutions in 1847 New York. The NYC guide I’m using – Doggett’s New York City Directory – for 1845-46 contains a list of the 217 buildings destroyed by the fire, and the names of the hundreds of people who were displaced by it.
I thought it might be fun to map the extent of this fire, described in Doggett’s as:
“The disastrous fire of the 19th of July, 1845 – long to be remembered by the citizens of New-York – having laid waste a considerable portion of the business section of the city; and causing, consequently, the removal of numerous business men and firms.”
Ever systematic, the guide went on:
“The total loss by the late fire has been variously estimated at from $5,000,000 to $8,000,000. The fire commenced about 3 o’clock, A.M. and was not subdued till 11 o’clock A.M., a period of eight hours. Supposing, therefore, the total loss to have been $6,000,000 – the average loss per hour, was $750,000; the loss, per quarter of an hour, was $187,500; the loss, per minute, was $3,125, and the average loss per second, was $52.08 1/2! Bank notes, of the denomination of one dollar, would not burn more rapidly in a common fireplace than was the property consumed by this conflagration.”
I have no sense of the relative value of the area destroyed today, but it encompasses much of the financial district of present-day New York City.