Great Fire of 1901
The Great Fire of 1901 was a conflagration in Jacksonville, Florida on May 3, 1901. It was one of the worst disasters in Florida history and the largest urban fire in the Southeastern United States.
About noon on Friday, May 3, 1901, in the LaVilla area, a boiler explosion at a candle factory caused a fire that spread to a mattress factory, setting ablaze mattresses filled with Spanish moss. The fire was soon discovered and its magnitude was underestimated. The causers thought it could be put out with a few buckets of water and therefore did not sound an alarm until the fire had grown beyond their control.
In eight hours, the fire burned 146 city blocks, destroyed more than 2,368 buildings, and left almost 10,000 residents homeless. It is said the glow from the flames could be seen in Savannah, Georgia, and the smoke plumes in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Florida Governor William S. Jennings declared martial law in Jacksonville and dispatched several state militia units to help. Reconstruction began immediately, and the city was returned to civil authority on May 17. Seven human deaths were reported.
The George A. Brewster Hospital and School of Nurse Training, which later became Methodist Medical Center, opened to treat black victims of the fire.
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, built of bricks in 1887, was the only major church in the city to withstand the fire.
The Duval County Courthouse and all its real estate records were destroyed in the fire. To this day real estate deeds in Duval County refer either to "the current public records of Duval County, Florida" or, if the records predate the fire, "the former public records of Duval County, Florida." It is the only county in Florida for which that is the case. The only existing pre-Fire real estate records are title abstracts saved by Title and Trust, a title company that still charges for their use.
New York City architect Henry John Klutho helped rebuild the city. He and other architects, enamored by the "Prairie Style" of architecture then being popularized by architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Chicago and other Midwestern cities, designed exuberant local buildings with a Florida flair. While many of Klutho's buildings were demolished by the 1980s, several of his creations remain, including the St. James Building (a former department store, from 1911, which is now Jacksonville's City Hall) and the Morocco Temple (1910). Local charity Fresh Ministries recently[when?] restored the Klutho Apartments, in Springfield, and converted them into office space for the Community Development Corporation's Operation New Hope. Jacksonville has one of the largest collections of Prairie Style buildings (particularly residences) outside the Midwest.
- Davis, T. Frederick (1925). History of Jacksonville Florida and Vicinity 1513 to 1924. Florida Heritage Collection: The Florida Historical Society. p. 513.
- Photographic exhibit on the 1901 Great Fire, presented by the State Archives of Florida.
- Information about the fire from the Jacksonville Historical Society
- 1901 "Great Fire" Remembered
- An Artistic Description of a Gloomy Affair