FREE genealogy since 1999 - History belongs to all of us!
Get Started Sign In
Menu Menu
Search Search
Family Tree Family Tree
Daily News Daily News
Bookmarks Bookmarks
Not on this site Don't end up on this site as someone's ancestor!
Visit our St Louis, Missouri, USA page!
Discover the people who lived there, the places they visited and the stories they shared.

1849 - May 17 – The St. Louis Fire starts when a steamboat catches fire and nearly burns down the entire city.

From the St. Louis Union.
23 Steamboats Burned!
Five Millions of Property Destroyed!!!

About ten o'clock last night, the steamer White Cloud lying near the head of the levee, was discovered to be on fire. At the time, there was a stiff breeze blowing from the north east, which soon carried the flames across to the Edward Bates, the next boat below, the heat from these, set fire to the Eudora, lying above them; the Belle Isle, next below the Bates, then caught fire. By this time, one or two boats below were dropped down, leaving a vacancy between those on fire and the boats below them.

At this time the Edward Bates being about half burnt up, was cast loose and went floating down the levee, setting fire to those boats still lying at the levee, as she approached them, in the following order: -- The Julia - but slightly injured; the Uncle Sam, also but slightly injured. The Bates but barely touched these boats, being those immediately below her. The following steamboats, with a large number of wood-boats, barges, &c., &c., were entirely consumed: -- The Martha, Sarah, Tagliona, Montauk, Red Wing, Alexander Hamilton, Boreas No. 3, Timour, Mandan, St. Peters, Kit Carson, Mameluke, Prairie State.

We do not presume that this comprises all the boats destroyed, but these are all the names we were able to get hold of.

So intense was the heat arising from this great conflagration, which extended with short intervals from the head of the levee to the head of Duncan's Island, that it set fire the buildings at various points along the levee, all of which above Vine street were extinguished but a row of shanties extending from Locust up towards Vine street was destroyed, and now, while we are writing, one o'clock this morning, the entire block bounded by the levee, Main, Olive, and Locust streets, is wrapped in flames, as are those houses in the square fronting the levee between Pine and Olive streets.

And various houses on the west side of Main street, from Canters & Simons at the corner of Locust and Main streets to Olive. MR. JOHN MADER'S large cooper shop at the south most corner of levee and Elm street and, also, a large two-story brick house on the west side of Main below Elm street, and the flames are rapidly spreading, and where they may be stayed man cannot tell. This is, by far, the most awful catastrophe that has ever fallen to the lot of any city west of the Allegheny mountains.

In addition to the property enumerated, there was a vast amount of grain in sacks, hemp, bacon, &c., &c., on the levee, which caught from the heat and sent off by the boats, and was destroyed, and unfortunately, on one pile of hemp, which was covered by a tarpaulin, it is said, four persons were sleeping, and all were destroyed. We saw the body of one of them, a boy, which was carried into the Police Office. There were a number of kegs of powder on board the various boats, and as the fire reached them they caught and exploded with a terrific crash, scattering the burning fragments in wild confusion into the upper air.

By one of these explosions one man standing on the levee was killed by being struck with a fragment blown from the burning wreck of the Martha; another was shockingly lacerated in different parts of the body, but how many poor wretches have fallen victims to these devouring flames as they have gone sweeping in wild grandeur from boat to boat, and from house to house, and from street to street, no man can ever tell.

One of the wildest and most heart-rending spectacles ever witnessed in our city was exhibited last night. From Duncan's Island, extending perhaps a half or three-fourths of a mile in a continuous line up the river, the burning wreck of boat met boat, and rolled their united clouds of deep black smoke, and lurid flame in wild confusion into upper air; on the other hand the long lofty range of stores fronting the river, send up a cloud of sparks and sheets of dazzling flames, which threw a red and glaring light far away into the darkness of night, which hung upon our western borders. Here and there were seen half frantic men, running in bewilderment from point to point, scarce knowing where, or staggering from their burning homes under a load of their most precious property, followed by a weeping wife and her tender babe.

Since writing the above, we have taken another walk through the burning district, which now, at a quarter before three o'clock, already extends from the levee, west, to Second street, and from Locust, south of Elm street. This entire space is not burned over, but much of it is, and much more will be before the flames are extinguished.

We cannot pretend to particularize the buildings burnt, but will mention the Telegraph Office, The United States Hotel, the Reveille Office, Republican Office, the Organ Office and the New Era Office. These comprise all the English daily papers in the city, except our own; we being on the north side of Locust above Main street, have, fortunately, escaped. We can form no estimate of the loss by this fire - it may probably be put down at five millions of dollars.

In our evening edition we will give all the particulars that can possibly be had relative to this awful catastrophe. At this time, half past four the flames are nearly extinguished, and though our gallant firemen are almost exhausted yet we hope but little more damage will be done.

In our morning edition, we gave what of interest we were able to collect, relative to the conflagration which has laid in ashes a large portion of St. Louis. We also promised to give our readers, in our evening issue as detailed an account as it was possible to collect; but, to get at anything like a full and accurate statement of the amount of property destroyed, or number of lives lost, is not within the range of possibility. We can only follow the general range of the fire, without going into details. We begin by stating that the point at which the fire first started on shore, was at the corner of Locust street and the Levee - the corner house, and three buildings above it, fronting the Levee, were destroyed; the flames then crossed Locust, and swept every house (with one exception) in the blocks fronting the Levee and Main street, and extending from Locust street Southward to Chestnut street, a distance of three squares. At Chestnut street, it turned up and crossed over to the next block south, at the junction of Commercial Alley with this street; and from the alley to Main, and down to Market street, burning all except two buildings at the corner of Market street and Com. Alley. At the junction of Market and Main streets, the flames crossed diagonally to the Market Street House, and followed both sides of Market street, up to Second street. Then crossing Main street, the flames again swept every building from Locust to Market, except a row of four story fire proof brick buildings, just below Locust street.

Passing up Pine, Chestnut and Market sts., the devouring element consumed every house in the two blocks intervening between the streets mentioned, and Main and Second sts., and those on nearly half of the block north of Olive.

Here its ravages were stayed in this part of the city. Before the progress could be arrested it was found necessary to blow up one or two houses near the corner of Market and Second streets, and in doing so at least three persons were killed. The fragments of one of their bodies were found on the opposite side of the street, one near Walnut, on Second st., and the thigh bone and a foot belonging to another, near the foot of Walnut street, some two or three squares from where the houses were blown up. These with the boy make four.

We will now go farther south to the foot of Elm street, where the fire made another lodgment, and spreading diagonally through this block, it swept up to Main, and down to Spruce street, a distance north and south of 2 squares, and crossing Main, it carried nearly every thing before it, up very nearly to Third street, three squares to the west of its starting point. At Main street, the flames crossed Elm, and consumed one-fourth of the block north of Elm and west of Main streets. From the foot of Elm, up its southern side to Second street, a distance of two squares not a house is standing. By this dire calamity, hundreds of families are made homeless, and many who were in affluence are reduced to poverty.

South Market, and the Town hall were on fire at one time, but by great exertions of a few persons present, they were saved.

Nearly every pane of glass in the windows for half a square distant from the corner of Market and Second street, were broken by the concussion at the time of the blowing up of the building at that point. The police arrested and confined in the jail and calaboose nearly fifty persons for stealing at the fire.

There are various rumors afloat relative to the loss of different persons, but many of them without foundation; and yet two or three of our old and valued citizens we believe to have lost their lives; and no doubt many are lost who will never be enquired after or thought of - strangers of whom there were many on the boats and in our city.

The extent of the conflagration, from its beginning to its termination, takes in almost the whole of two blocks, which would be about one mile in length, by two in width. The streets of our city, laid out originally very narrow, are literally choked up with fallen walls of houses and destroyed property of various kinds. We did not see either New York or Pittsburgh after the great conflagrations there, but we are informed that our city presents and aspect of greater desolation than either of those places. In regard to the loss, comparatively, we know not from any data in our possession which is the greatest. Our recollection however, is, that in neither New York nor Pittsburgh, did the loss exceed five millions of dollars. If this be true, St. Louis has suffered more than either of those cities by fire.

The following is believed to be an accurate list of the Steamboats destroyed in the great conflagration of last night. The confusion and chaos which reign throughout the city, to-day, make it a difficult matter to procure information but the following estimate has been collected with great care from reliable sources, and is believed to be pretty nearly accurate:

TAGLIONA, COLES master, value $20,000, insured at Pittsburgh.
BOREAS NO. 3, BARNARD master, Mo. River, value $13,000, insured $11,500.
ALICE, KENNETT master, Mo. River value, $18,000, insured $12,000.
AM EAGLE, COSSENS master, Upper Mississippi, value $11,000, insured $4,000.
SARAH, YOUNG master, New Orleans, value $30,000, insured $20,000, value of cargo $40,000.
MONTAUK, MOORHOUSE master, Upper Mississippi, value $16,000, value of cargo $20,000.
KIT CARSON, GODDIN master, Mo. River, value $14,000, value of cargo $3,000.
TIMOUR, MILLER master, Mo. River value $23,000, insured $18,000, value of cargo $5,000.
ACADIA, RUSSELL, Illinois river, value $4,000, insured $4,000, value of cargo $6,000.
MAMELUKE, SMITHERS master, New Orleans value $30,000, insured $20,000.
PRAIRIE STATE, BALDWIN master, Ills. River, value $26,000 insured $20,000.
WHITE CLOUD, ADAMS master, New Orleans, value $3,000.
EDWARD BATES, RANDOLPH master, Upper Mississippi, value $20,000, insured $15,000.
EUDORA, EALERS master, New Orleans, value $16,000, insured $10,500.
ST. PETERS, WARD master, Upper Mississippi, value $12,000, insured $9,000.
RED WING, BARGER master, Upper Mississippi, value $6,000, value of cargo $5,000.
A. HAMILTON, HOOPER master, Mo. River, value $15,000, insured $10,000.
MARTHA, FINCH master, Mo. River, value $9,000, insured $9,000, value of cargo $35,000.
ELIZA STEWART, McKEE master, Mo. River value $10,000, insured $10,000.
MANDAN, BEER master, Mo. River, value $12,000, insured $10,000.
BELLE ISLE, SMITH master, New Orleans, value $10,000, insured $8,000.
GEN. BROOK, RINGLING master, tow boat, value $1,500.
FROLIC, RINGLING master, tow boat, value $1,500.

Estimate value of steamboat stock $318,000
Estimate value of steamboat cargoes $150,000
Estimate value of steamboat produce destroyed on landing $50,000

The Sarah was insured in Cincinnati for $20,000; the American Eagle for $3,000 in Pittsburgh; the Mameluke $8,000 in Louisville; and the others, we believe, were all insured by officers and agencies in this city.

Liberty Weekly Tribune


Go Back

The comments you read here belong only to the person who posted them. We reserve the right to remove off-topic and inappropriate comments.