From the Richmond Dispatch, 12/26/1870

$300,000 Worth of Property Destroyed!
&c., &c., &c.,

The Fire Fiend has again swept over our beautiful city, leaving in its trail half a block of buildings in the very heart of the city a heap of smouldering ruins, while seven or more lives have been forfeited to satisfy its burning rage. By this calamity the great Christian festival has, to the eyes of the people of Richmond, been stripped of half of its accustomed joys, and sadness reigns this morning where so much of mirth and gaiety was to be anticipated, in view of the South.


On the morning of Christmas day, at about 2 o'clock, Patrick Byrd, the night-watchman at the Spotswood Hotel, was sent by Mr. Knowles, the night clerk, to call thee women, whose duty it is to scour the floors. Going up stairs, he thought he detected the smell of smoke, and looking more carefully, presently he saw it curling from a fissure in the weather-boarding of the old wine-room, of late used as a pantry. The alarm was immediately given, and Mr. Knowles, and Dr. Latham of Lynchburg, running to the sot, tried to get in the room to extinguish the fire, but found it impossible to get in without a key. Presently, however, the door was broken down, and the flames were seen crawling up the walls and licking the ceiling their fiery tongues. It was too late for buckets of water, and a messenger was sent to sound the fire-alarm. Meantime the cry of fire was raised in the house, and the halls of the second floor were in a few minutes filled with frightened, stupefied, half-clad people, throwing open the doors, and otherwise clearing the path of the fiery element.


Those who escaped say that in a space of time almost incredibly short the smoke had filled the whole house, and the flames made their way through the thin woodwork partitions with fearful rapidity. The Fire Department, notwithstanding the extreme cold, was on the ground with remarkable promptness, but the water could not be made so speedily available. In less than half an hour fire was observed on every one of the five floors, and the passages were choking with hot air and almost im___cable ashes.

The scene was now one of indescribable terror. Men, women, and children were in the burning building, and all who were awake were striving to get out. With fire on every side and smoke – blinding, suffocating smoke – penetrating everywhere, this was no easy task to those not thoroughly acquainted with the landmarks. The screams and prayers of the panic-struck terrified the self-possessed; the weak were either trampled under foot on the narrow stairs or sank where they stood paralyzed in fear, waiting for relief. Fortunately, however, there were those within who retained their presence of mind, and those without bold enough to risk the danger to save a human life. – So far as is known, all who left their rooms found means to escape, though with life alone, and there was no woman’s cry for help or infant’s wail of terror that did not bring a man to the relief. Most of those who lost their lives were awaked by finding the flames in their rooms, or remained in the vain hope of saving also their property. The floors began to fall, and all in the building then could not but perish.


A strong wind swept the flames westward, and the sparks and ashes flew all over the city, causing serious apprehension s lest there should be a fire in remote places, while the services of the firemen were needed where they were. After the Spotswood, the adjoining building, occupied by the Grover & Baker sewing machine depot. E. Currant’s house-furnishing store, and Mr. Hungerford’s banking establishment, caught and was speedily destroyed. Wolfdecke’s cigar store and Anderson’s tin and stove depot were then fired, and only the constant play of the engines upon the building on the corner of Main and 9th streets, known as Bosher’s Hall, and under which was the grocery and liquor store of W. D. Blair & Co., saved it from following suit. On 8th street the old framed building in the rear of the Spotswood, and belonging to the concern, was partially destroyed. At 5 o’clock the fire was stayed.


It is a pleasure to say that the number of deaths was greatly exaggerated in the reports which flew about the city yesterday morning. The reality, however, is distressing, indeed. Those who are believed on all sides to have been killed are Samuel C. Hines, Erasmus W. Ross, Samuel M. Robinson, and Mrs. Emily Kennealy. W. H. Pace and J. B. Farris are missing, and it is feared that they are lost. These are persons all known to the people of Richmond. It remains to be discovered what strangers or other transient boarders were killed. The names of none have transpired.


Captain Samuel C. Hines was a most estimable and popular young gentleman, who came to Richmond several years ago from Caswell county, N. C. He was a salesman in the wholesale dry goods house of Moses Millhiser, 911 Main street. He had been spending Christmas Eve with a party of gentlemen friends, and returned to the hotel at about 1 o’clock. His room was on the fifth floor, in the corner next to Cary street – a most inaccessible part of the building; but it is known that he came down stairs to beg some one to help him get Ross and Robinson out, they occupying rooms adjoining his own. The undertaking was so perilous that he could not procure any assistance, and (noble fellow that he was) he returned through the blinding smoke and flame to the attic, determined to make a final effort to rouse his friend. He reached the room in safety, and was presently, it is stated, seen at the window crying and beckoning for help. In response bedding was placed below the window, and he was told to jump and he would be caught. But suddenly the flames burst forth from the very window where he stood. He was caught in their scorching embrace, fell backward into the room, and was seen no more. In a few minutes afterward the floor fell through.

Poor Hines has many mourning friends in his adopted city. We doubt if he ever had an enemy. Generous and charitable to a fault, he fell a sacrifice upon the altar of friendship. He could not save a brother Knight of Pythias, but attempting it, dared the danger and lost his life. He was a member of Old Dominion Lodge No. 4, Knights of Pythias. In respect to his memory, the supper of Old Dominion Lodge, which was to have been taken place on Tuesday night, has been indefinitely postponed.


E. W. Ross was a well-known Richmond man, about thirty years of age. His father was E. W. Ross, the tobacconist, and he was a nephew of Franklin Stearns, Esq. He was at one time in the tobacco business himself with Charles I. Baldwin, and subsequently carried on the commission business with Giles T. Pleasants, under the firm name of Ross and Pleasants. More recently he has been clerking. He was a good fellow, and had many warm friends. Mr. Ross was a member of Richmond Commandery, No. 2, Knights Templar, Richmond Randolph Lodge, No. 19, of Masons, and Old Dominion Lodge, No. 4, of Knights of Pythias.


was a Richmond boy, not many years past majority. His stout form and ruddy, pleasant countenance will be remembered by many who have seen him at the cigar stand at Wm. Euker’s, 910 Main street, where he has been for some time employed as salesman. Mr. E. King reports seeing Mr. Robinson at a window in the fifth story, near the southwest corner of the building, begging for help. Several beds were placed directly beneath the window, and he was urged to jump, but seemed terrified by the depth of he fall, and did not do so. This account differs from another, but Mr. King is positive of Robinson’s identity, as he called him by name.


The fate of this lady is almost beyond doubt of a tragic character. For the past eighteen months she had filled the place of head housekeeper at the Spotswood, and by her gentle, lady-like demeanor won the esteem of all with whom she came in contact – particularly the lady guests of the hotel. Mrs. K., a few months after the close of the war, engaged in this city as the housekeeper of the St. Charles Hotel, under the proprietorship of Messrs. Babcock & Merrick, which position she maintained till the close of that establishment, when an engagement of transfer was effected with Messrs. Millward & Corkery, then the proprietors of the Spotswood.

The writer of this only renders a feeble tribute to the virtues of the deceased when he says that during an illness at the St. Charles of near eight weeks, while he was a boarder thereat, he received as kind and watchful attention as either a mother or a wife could bestow; and she never failed in her watchful care to so conduct herself as to win the universal esteem and conviction of all who were thrown in contact with her that she was a lady of refinement, amiability, and cultivation. Mrs. Kennealy, about five years since, came here from Baltimore, where, we believe, she has at the present time a son residing. She was a lady of medium statue, about thirty-eight years of age, and of very comely appearance. The last seen of her was while the fire was at its fiercest, when she was entreated by the wife of one of the proprietors of the hotel to flee for her life; but, anxious to save her effects, she heeded not the entreaties of her friend, and perished in the devouring elements.


Mr. H. A. Thomas seems to have been killed beyond doubt. He was a stranger, and it is not known from what State he hailed. He came here about a week ago as the travelling agent of the panorama of Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress, and was known only to the proprietors of the hotel, a few newspaper men, and some theatrical people. Thomas seemed to be a socially disposed person, of quiet habits. He is supposed to have had considerable money with him.


P. F. Clarke, of Philadelphia, was the steward of the hotel. He found his egress from his apartment cut off, and tried to clamber down from window to window to the alley at the rear of the hotel. Several mattresses were placed in position to catch him in case of a fall. He did fall, but not upon the mattress, and was badly hurt about the hip and leg, and otherwise bruised. He was taken to the Grecian Bend Saloon, kept by Thomas Griffith, on 8th street, where surgical attendance was rendered by Drs. F. D. Cunningham and C. W. P. Brock. His life is not despaired of.


The transient boarders, who, though they may have escaped, have not yet been traced, are J. S. Wilcox, of Lynchburg; C. B. Vaiden, Virginia; Nathan Burnstein, Washington D. C.; A. Leil, Tampa, Fla.; E. George and E. H. Andrews, Syracuse, N. Y.; Henry Kroth, New York city, and John H. Holman, Jr., Jackson, Tenn. Some or all of these may have found refuge at private boarding-houses or elsewhere. Those who are safe would do well to leave their names at one of the newspaper offices at once, lest anxiety on their account be created in the minds of friends.

Mr. W. H. Pace is a route agent on the Danville railroad, and Mr. J. B. Farris is an express messenger between Richmond and Greensboro’, N. C. They were sober, steady men, and fast friends. They are both known to have discharged the duties of their respective offices on Saturday night, and then went to the hotel. They roomed together on the fifth story. Neither has since been seen or heard of, and it is feared that the flames caught them sleeping, and that they never left their rooms. Mr. Farris has a wife and two children in Greensboro.


Charles F. Janney, of Columbia, S. C., escaped, and saved all his effects, even to a novel. He is at the Exchange Hotel. S. Friedman, of New York, also escaped without injury or loss of property.

G. E. Kingsley, wife, and Mrs. Tucker, all of New York, lost two trunks out of six, but sustained no injury. F. Alexander came off safely. They are at the Exchange Hotel.

W. N. Lenier, Jr., and W. A. Wade, Jr., students of Hampden Sydney College, were on one of the lower floors, and got off with all their baggage. They were also at the Exchange Hotel last night.

S. A. Pearce, Jr., of Columbia, S. C., said to be Senator Sprague’s private secretary, is at Ford’s Hotel. He lost a valise and valuable papers. D. N. Coningore, of Cincinnati, is there also, being entirely uninjured, and having nearly all his baggage.

Hon. W. H. H. Stowell, of Halifax county, Va., member of Congress elect, sustained no injury.

Miss Dabney and Miss Crozier, of this city, got out and made their way to the Exchange Hotel, but lost everything they had in their rooms.

E. W. Mercer and wife, of Cleveland, Ohio, saved their lives, but lost all their effects. They are at the Exchange.

The members of the De Lave troupe (including Lila and Zoe, the trapezists) escaped to the Monumental Hotel, where they may now be found. They lost three trunks. H. W. Shune, wife, and child, of Wilmington, N. C., were also at this hotel yesterday, but have since left town.

Prof. B. Maillefert, of New York, the engineer, lost nothing but his meerschaum pipe. He is at the Exchange.

B. F. Coleman, of Raleigh, N. C., late of Cincinnati, is all right.

Mrs. and Miss Banks, of Columbus, Ga., escaped with the loss of their baggage, and went South yesterday. Miss Miggs, who accompanied them, found shelter in a private residence, being separated from her party.


Capt. D. W. Bohannon was so fortunate as to be among those who escaped with life. At 10 o’clock he retired to his room on the fourth floor. He was awaked at about 2 o’clock by some one bursting into his room and exclaiming, “For God’s sake, Captain, get out of this, if you want to save your life.” He sprang out of bed, and put on a few articles of clothing. The man who waked him asked, “Can I help you?” and receiving an answer in the negative, left. Capt. Bohannon thinks this was Mr. Hines, who, it seems, was afterwards lost in attempting to save a friend. The Captain, having got into his coat and pants, picked up a bundle of clothes, and wrapping his cloak around his face, ran down stairs through the flames and smoke, arriving at the main entrance almost suffocated. Had he not been perfectly familiar with the course of the stairs, he must have blundered and been lost. When he looked into the bundle he found it was his Knight Templar regalia. The rest of his effects were lost. He had fitted himself up comfortably in is room, having occupied it for several years, and had, in addition to many other articles, a large number of valuable books, many of which were imported, and some having no duplicate on this continent. It was his intention to send his splendid edition of the works of the Christian Fathers to Tuft’s College, New Hampshire, as a Christmas present.

Mr. C. A. Schaffter, of Lynchburg, Superintendent of Public Printing, had a narrow escape. He heard the roar of the advancing flames, and first thought it to be the noise of a Christmas frolic; but presently, smelling fire and hearing an alarm, opened the door to see the passage full of smoke. Realizing that his retreat by the ordinary avenue was cut off, he slammed the door to and opened the window. Some in the crowd urged him to jump; others urged him to wait for help. He determined to do neither, but took a chance equally as hazardous. Climbing out the window of his room, he clung by the hands to the sill, and jumped (miraculous as it may seem) to the window below, alighting on the sill of that, and holding fast by the cornice. He was now on the third floor, and intended to try the same plan to get lower, but a ladder was brought to his aid, and he descended in safety. His beard was singed and his hands badly cut by glass. He lost what baggage he had in the room and about $40 worth of Christmas presents, which he designed taking to his wife and children in Lynchburg yesterday morning.

J. E. Batkins and Edward Sweetman are Assistant Inspectors of Gas. It is a part of their duty to attend all fires, cut off the gas, and save the metres, which are of value to the city. In the performance of this duty, they were promptly at the scene of the fire yesterday morning, and having saved the one-hundred light metre, worth about $75, they went to the rear, and having gained access to the cellar, went forward to the vault under the pavement to save the then light metre. While they were there, the floors of the hotel suddenly fell in with a crash, and their retreat was entirely cut off. There was an immense cloud of smoke, and the flames seemed about to swallow them. In ten minutes they would probably have been suffocated or burnt to death, when one found the grating in the pavement above and poked his fingers through. Fortunately, somebody’s attention was thereby attracted, and the grate being lifted, both were drawn out alive.

Captain Rives Hoffman, conductor on the Petersburg railroad, and Mr. Archer, express messenger, occupied a room together. A shuck mattress was spread on the pavement below, and they were told to jump; but thinking the provision for their reception too slight, they adopted the plan of making a rope by tying the sheets together. By this means they were enabled to reach the ground without sustaining any injury.

Mr. Arthur Segar, member of the House of Delegates, had a room of the fifth story, and was awaked by the smell of fire. He got down stairs somehow or other, but was minus coat, hat, and shoes. He sustained no personal injury.

Mr. Wm. Ira Smith, with his family, occupied a suit of rooms on the third floor. They escaped, but lost all else but the little clothing they picked up in the hurry of their flight. Mr. Smith’s furniture and the wearing apparel of his family were lost. Among other valuable property he had a piano. His loss was estimated at $2,000.

Captain C. C. McPhail escaped with his wife and child. He was aroused by his wife when the fire had made considerable headway, and getting out of the burning building, they sought refuge at the house of Col. Peyton N. Wise, on Franklin street. All their furniture, clothing, and jewelry were lost, the whole amounting I value to not less than $1,500.

Mr. Eldridge, of New York, (a friend of Governor Walker’s,) was on one of the higher floors. He had in his rooms a valise containing $700 in money and a check for $1,000. Taking this in his hand, he wrapped a blanket about his face and tried to escape by the stairs, but was driven back by the threatening flames. He then gave up all hope of saving his money, and, dropping the valise and blanket, succeeding in getting out the of the window by aid of a painter’s ladder. He was not hurt, but of course lost the money.

Mr. Edward M. Alfriend was domiciled on the fourth floor. Waking soon after the alarm was given, he seized his clothes (which were hanging on a chair by the bed) and ran through the passage and down stairs, kicking open the doors and giving the alarm at every one as he went along. Mr. Schaffter and others were probably waked by this means. Mr. Alfriend having donned his apparel, afterwards returned to the building, and did good service in rescuing others. He lost nearly everything he had, including a valuable library, which cannot be easily replaced.

On the fifth floor there were more children than in any other part of the hotel, and it seems almost miraculous that any of these escaped, when strong men like Robinson, Hines, and Ross perished. Here were the families of the proprietors, Messrs. Sublett, Luck, and Bishop. These gentlemen, with their wives and little ones, without exception, got out before a single floor fell, and escaped serious injury. Mr. Luck was afterwards badly scorched in attempting to get the papers out of the office. It is not known that any children were lost. If so, they were the children of transient boarders.

F. M. Green, a clerk in the office of Supervisor Presbrey, is reported to have been injured by falling upon broken glass.

Mr. T. Roberts Baker, of the firm of Meade & Baker, druggists, lost all of his furniture and nearly all the wearing apparel. Fortunately, neither he nor his wife and daughter were at home on this eventful night.


The office of this company was under the hotel. Great efforts were made to save the safes and other property, but they were only partially successful. The goods received at this office from other points were probably totally destroyed, and their value cannot be estimated. Those received here for shipment to other points were nearly all saved. Mr. Gibson, the superintendent of this division, has already opened another office. It is in the Virginia Hall building, on 9th street, between Main and Franklin.


A full list of the losses and insurance has not yet been made out. We give the details as far as known.

The Spotswood Hotel, owned by the Crenshaw estate, valued at $140,000; insured in New York companies by D. N. Walker & Co., agents – on building, $60,000; on furniture, $20,000; with the North British company, T. M. Alfriend & Son agents, for $6,000. If any other insurance, not ascertained.

The buildings occupied by E. Currant and others, and owned by Jas. H. Grant’s estate, were insured for $11,200 in the Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia, for $8,000 in the Virginia State Insurance Company, and for $8,000 in the National, of Baltimore. The amount of E. Currant’s loss is not ascertained, but is total; insured for $5,000 in the North British and Mercantile, Thomas M. Alfriend & Sons, agents.

The property of Sublett, Luck & Bishop was insured for $3,000 in the Southern Mutual Insurance Company, for $5,000 in the British company of which Peyton & Ellerson are agents, and for $7,000 in the North British and Mercantile, T. M. Alfriend & Sons, agents.

Mayor Kelley’s library was partially destroyed. It was insured for $1,000 in the Petersburg Savings and Insurance Company.

The Grover & Baker sewing-machines were insured for $1,500 in the Virginia State Insurance Company. Loss above insurance about $500.

The Howe sewing-machine establishment, in the hotel building, on the corner of 8th street, was burnt. Stock loss $2,000; insured for $1,500.

W. J. Anderson, stoves and tinware; stock valued at $3,000, totally destroyed; insured for full amount in Continental, of New York. The building, owned by the estate of Denoon, was partially destroyed, and insured for $800 in the Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia. The Mutual also had $4,800 on the kitchen of the hotel.

J. H. Marsh, music dealer, lost nearly everything, and had no insurance.


While the proprietors of the Spotswood have not varied in their practice from all other hotel keepers, and have exercised all the vigilance that has been expected of hotel keepers heretofore, still there is a lesson to be learned from this calamity from which profit may be gained. It is a notorious fact that in the large hotels in this and other cities the only employees awake at 9 o’clock in the morning are on the lowest (office) floor of the house. In the four or five floors above, containing, probably, 150 rooms, there is not a servant or watchman of any sort awake. The silent rooms are filled with several hundred sleeping, and, therefore, utterly helpless guests. A fire breaks out, and the wooden stair-cases and slight room partitions go off like tinder. It is utterly impossible for the two or three employees awake to rouse the sleeping guests on the four or five floors above, and the appalling spectacle is exhibited of burning men and women shrieking for help from windows that cannot be reached. There are no fire escapes, no means in man’s power by which they can be saved. There should be a watchman on every floor, and a roundsman to see that they are awake. If a hotel is doing any business, it can afford this outlay to save human life, and if they cannot, why, then, the pit of death should be closed. It is useless to say that these disasters are so infrequent that such precautions would be exaggerated care. This is not so. On Thursday night last a hotel at St. Louis burnt, and on Friday night Rutherford Park Hotel, in New Jersey, was burnt, and Saturday night the Spotswood. In one of the first-named hotels two guests were burned to death. We guarantee to inform the public of the first hotel proprietor who is humane enough to insure the life of his guests by proper care, and we think we may guarantee that he will have more guests to insure. And this we say without reflecting any more upon the proprietors of the Spotswood than upon those of any other first-class hotels in the country.

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