FIRE IN THE HEART OF THE CITY.
THE SPOTSWOOD HOTEL IN ASHES.
AT LEAST SEVEN LIVES LOST.
$300,000 Worth of Property Destroyed!
TERRIBLE SCENES AND NARROW ESCAPES.
LISTS OF THE LOST AND SAVED.
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.
HOTEL ON FIRE.
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.
THE BUILDING IN
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.
PROGRESS OF THE
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.
BELIEVED TO BE
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.
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.
SAMUEL M. ROBINSON
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.
H. A. THOMAS.
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
BOARDERS WHO ARE SAVED.
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
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
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.
SCENES, INCIDENTS, AND NARROW ESCAPES.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
THE LESSON TO
BE LEARNED – WHAT HOTEL KEEPERS SHOULD DO.
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.