From the staff of Special Collections, The Main Library
One Friday in early May 1901, flames engulfed the vibrant young southern city of Jacksonville, Florida. About eight hours later, 10,000 people were homeless, $15 million of property had been destroyed and all that remained were 455 acres of ashes. Known as the Great Fire of 1901, it holds the record for the most destructive burning of a southern city in U.S. history.
In that same year, a small booklet was published by Benjamin Harrison titled Acres of Ashes; A Story of the Great Jacksonville, Fla. Fire, May 3, 1901. What sold for 25 cents then is now somewhat of a treasure for historians, students and all those curious about the Great Fire of 1901. It can be found at Jacksonville Public Library’s Main Library in Special Collections on the 4th floor, along with many other books that retell the event:
- The Great Fire of 1901 by Bill Foley and Wayne W. Wood
- Jacksonville in Flames: Florida’s metropolis in sack-cloth and ashes; an artistic description of a gloomy affair by Walter S. Wagstaff
- History of Duval County, Florida, by Pleasant Daniel Gold
- History of Jacksonville, Florida, and vicinity, 1513 – 1924 by Thomas Frederick Davis
Special Collections also has files of newspaper articles and other information about the fire. In addition to information on Jacksonville, state history is also available in Special Collections, which houses maps, manuscripts and microfilm for researchers of all things historical. Many area residents visit to research their family ancestry.
So stop by and explore your past and the interesting history of Jacksonville and Florida. You can also sign up to receive the Owl’s Nest, is a bimonthly electronic newsletter produced by the library’s Special Collections Department. It features articles highlighting each collection and includes information about upcoming classes, events, and material additions. Follow the link to a signup list of many newsletters available through the library and select Special Collections Owl’s Nest.
As promised, here are 10 facts about the Great Fire of 1901:
- The fire began on a Friday around 12:30 p.m. and burned until 8:30 p.m.
- Chimney embers ignited sun-dried moss to be used as stuffing at the Cleaveland Fibre Factory.
- The factory was located at Davis and Beaver Streets.
- Citizens’ bucket brigades joined the city and area fire departments to slow the spread of the flames.
- Dark smoke clouds could be seen as far away as South Carolina.
- Seven people died.
- Ten thousand people were left homeless.
- One of the few city landmarks to survive the fire was the Confederate Monument in Hemming Park.
- The fire destroyed 146 city blocks, 1,700 homes and 2,368 buildings.
- The damage was estimated at $15 million in 1901 dollars—about $418 million today.