From the Richmond Dispatch, 12/28/1870


Three days have elapsed since the burning of the Spotswood Hotel, and “the fire” is still the absorbing topic of conversation on our streets. The blackened walls and smoking debris are still an object of interest to the curious crowd, and a detail of policemen is kept constantly on duty in the vicinity to keep order and guard against accidents which might occur from allowing people to indulge their morbid tastes, as well from the undue zeal of the friends of those who have perished in the conflagration.


On Sunday afternoon, it being generally believed that Messrs. Ross and Hines were among the killed, steps were taken by the Knights of Pythias, to which order they both belonged, to have the bodies disinterred at the earliest practicable moment. Nothing could be done that evening, as there was still a smouldering fire beneath the bricks/ but on Monday the work was commenced.

The first thing done was to have the standing walls wherever dangerous pulled down, so that men could work with safety in the ruins. A stream of water was then turned upon the hot bricks, so that by yesterday morning they were cooled sufficiently to allow the chain-gang and some other hands to go to work.

The Express Company also put a squad to work with a view to getting out their safes.


The task of digging up the debris in order to recover the remains of the dead was performed under the supervision of Masonic and Pythian committees. They were guided in this work by a diagram of the hotel in the possession of the proprietors. Mr. Ross’s room was No. 43, just above the Express office; so the men working under the supervision of Masons and Pythians, and those employed by the Express Company, worked together. Several times it was thought that the remains of one or more persons had been discovered, but the bones having been collected in a box and examined by physicians, were pronounced not the bones of a human being. At one place quite a number of fragments of bones were found together, and with them some coat-buttons and what appeared to be burnt cloth. It was finally conceded, however, that these were probably the remains of the contents of boxes which had been burned in the cellar of the express office. This morning the examination of the debris will be resumed.


The four safes belonging to the Southern Express Company were extricated, apparently in good condition, except that they were all (more or less) warped. They had not been opened at a late hour last evening. The large money safe was taken to the new office of the company, under Virginia Hall.

The safe of the Spotswood Hotel was opened, at the request of the proprietors, by Detectives Craddock and Parker, in the ruins where it lay. All the books, papers, and money therein were found to be uninjured. It was a herring safe.


It is believed that the eighth victim of the fire was John H. Holman, of Jackson, Tenn. He formerly lived in Virginia, but has been for several years past in business in Tennessee. On Saturday last he came to Richmond, partly on business, but principally to spend the holidays with his sister, who lives near the city. It is known that he registered at the Spotswood, and as he has not yet reported to his friends, they feel sure that he is numbered with those burned to death. He was about twenty-eight years of age.


Besides the persons generally admitted to have been killed, the following are still missing: A. Leib, Tampa, Fla.; E. George and E. H. Andrews, Syracuse, N. Y.; and Henry Kroth, of New York..


Mr. Clarke, the steward of the hotel, who was badly hurt in jumping from a window, is still at the Grecian Bend Saloon, and is doing well. His physician, Dr. F. D. Cunningham, pronounces him out of danger, so far as his wounds are concerned.


C. B. Vaiden, of Chesterfield county, reported missing, left for Caroline county on Saturday morning, but his name was not checked off the register. His brother reports him safe.

W. W. Ragland, of Petersburg, Va., reported at our office on Monday morning safe.

J. F. Wilcox, of Lynchburg, had also left the hotel before the fire occurred.

Nathan Burnstein, of Washington city, was among those reported missing. He has since turned up uninjured. He occupied room No. 108, on the third floor, and escaped in his night clothes, losing only a part of his baggage.

J. McD. Carrington, Esq., late Commonwealth’s Attorney of Henrico county, made a narrow escape. He retired at about 1 o’clock, and was awakened after the fire had made considerable progress by hearing the noise caused by dragging trunks down stairs, and immediately after the sound of a woman’s cry of terror. He ran out of his room, and finding the building on fire, made his way out without ceremony.

The DeLave theatrical troupe lost their wardrobe, as before reported. DeLave was also burnt out at the Atlantic Hotel, Norfolk, a year or two ago. Lila and Zoe, the trapezists, were not injured, as was at first feared.

Mr. A. Leib, of Tampa, Florida, is reported now to be in Washington.


Mrs. Thos S. Dabney, of Washington city, and Miss Crozier, her daughter-in-law, were in a room on the fifth floor, and escaped with nothing but their night clothes. Among other valuable property they lost a diamond ring worth about $300, two gold watches and a gold chain, and a collection of West Indian curiosities. Ms. Dabney’s husband is the well known mail agent on the Chesapeake and Ohio railroad. He was at Staunton when he heard the news of the fire. The ladies are now at the Exchange Hotel.

Colonel John R. Popham, member of the House of Delegates from Bath and Highland, woke up in time to save his life and all his property except a pair of socks.

Mr. George Watt was boarding, together with his wife and daughter, at the Spotswood when the fire took place. His daughter awoke about the time the alarm was given, and having packed her own effects for removal, with remarkable presence of mind went from door to door, warning others of the danger. The only article of value lost in her room was a gold watch belonging to a friend, which had been sent to Miss Watt to have repaired. Mr. Watt got out his daughter’s trunks, containing her wearing apparel, but failed to save his own or his wife’s, or any of their furniture. His loss is estimated at about $1,000. But what he regretted above all was the loss of the medals awarded the Watt plow for excellence, one of which he had just received from a Southern State Fair.

Mr. W. M. Sutton and family were not in the house on the night of the fire, but nearly all of Mr. Sutton’s personal property was in his rooms and was destroyed. He lost a quantity of elegant furniture, silver plate, and wearing apparel, and some valuable old family portraits and other pictures, which cannot be replaced. His loss is estimated at not less than $2,500.

Mr. Bolling W. Haxall’s family were among the sufferers, losing nearly everything but a little clothing and a few papers.

Mr. E. Cuthbert, correspondent of the New York Herald, lost some articles of clothing, a library, the files of the Herald, and an interesting letter to the paper which he represents.

Mr. Wm. Ira Smith’s furniture was insured for $800 in the Virginia Home Fire Insurance Company.


When the ladies and children rushed forth from the hotel in their night clothes and barefooted, several gentlemen offered to divest themselves of their coats and shoes to shield the poor creatures from the piercing cold. Mr. De Lave, of the troupe now performing at the Theatre, gave his coat to the wife of Captain McPhail, having seen that his own daughter was out of danger, and Mr. J. E. Towers supplied his (Captain McPhail’s) daughter with shoes and carried her to a place of safety. Generous merchants sent the sufferers word that whatever they might need could be had at their stores, begging that nothing be said about the money. In marked contrast to these noble deeds, however, was the conduct of a well-known dry goods merchant, who refused to let a sufferer have anything for his family without the cash. It is hard to resist the temptation to publish the name of such a person.


We publish this morning a corrected list of the losses and insurance:

The Spotswood Hotel, owned by the Crenshaw estate, and valued at $140,000; total insurance, $54,800, divided amongst the following companies: Underwriters’ Agency, New York, $30,000; Security, New York, $5,000; Manhattan, New York, $5,000; Atlantic, New York, $5,000; and $5,000 in the Franklin, of Baltimore (D. N. Walker & Co., agents); Mutual Insurance of Virginia, $4,800. Furniture, etc., $33,000, amongst the following: Underwriters’, $5,000; Security, $5,000; Manhattan, $5,000; Atlantic, $5,000 (D. N. Walker & Co., agents);  Southern Mutual, $2,000; North British and Mercantile (Thomas M. Alfriend & Son, agents), $7,000; and $5,000 in the Royal, of London, (Peyton & Ellerson, agents).

The two buildings adjoining the hotel, and owned by the estate of James H. Grant, were insured for $27,200. Virginia State Insurance Company, $8,000; National Fire, of Baltimore, $8,000, and the Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia, $11,200.

Mr. E. Currant’s stock, estimated at $12,000, insured for $5,000 in the North British and Mercantile, Thos. M. Alfriend & Son, agents.

Henry Hungerford’s loss $2,000. No insurance.

J. H. Marsh, music dealer, entire stock lost; value unknown. No insurance.

W. J. Anderson, stoves and tinware. Insured for $3,000 in the Continental Fire Insurance Company, New York; Gibson & Rose, agents.

The building occupied by Anderson, belonging to the estate of Samuel D. Denoon, was insured in the Mutual Assurance of Virginia for $800.

Mr. Woeldecke, cigar dealer, loss about $1,000. No insurance.

Southern Express Company, loss unknown, but supposed to be heavy; no insurance.

Grover & Baker sewing-machine company, $1,500. Virginia State. Los over insurance about $500.

Howe sewing-machine, loss and insurance about the same as Grover & Baker’s.

Mayor Kelly, library insured for $1,000 in Petersburg Savings and Insurance Company, Thos. M. Alfriend & Son, agents.

[later in the same paper]


The holocaust which ushered in Christmas morning here is not to be forgotten, nor is it to be neglected. It is a lesson to the hotel-keepers of Richmond, but to those everywhere to whom the public entrust their lives and property. The disaster of Christmas morning should be made the subject of an inquest, and all the facts connected with the present system of hotel management should be made known. It is something we owe to those seven men, every one of them in the prime of life, who fell out of the black smoke cloud that surrounded and stifled them into the fiery furnace beneath. It is something we owe to that poor woman, the mother of children, who, beyond the reach of aid, cried piteously for help until wrapped in the devouring flames. And it is something we owe to those who are now alive - for no traveler knoweth the hour when the same calamity may not overtake him. The sole cause of the fearful loss of life which took place was the want of sufficient watchfulness. It is useless to cover it up with smooth words. That is the plain English of it - that is the fact. And yet the ill-fated hotel was no exception to the hotels all over the country. Indeed, so confident were the proprietors in their provision  for the safety of their guests that they themselves, with their families, occupied the very highest and therefore most dangerous floor in the house.

Even with their intimate knowledge of the building, their escape was very narrow. What, then, were the chances for a stranger? It is the custom in the hotels now to have only a clerk and one or two servants on the lowest floor of the house-the office-after midnight, and the four or five floors above that are utterly deserted, except by the sleeping and helpless guests, from that time until 6 o’clock in the morning. Should the fire commence on the lowest floor, it would be physically impossible to get to 150 rooms and awaken each occupant; and should it commence on the floor above the office (as was the case at the Spotswood), the clerk himself would be ignorant of it till too late for remedy. We are glad to learn that a bill will be introduced into the Legislature requiring all hotel-keepers in the State to have a watchman or watchmen, who shall visit each floor in the building every ten or fifteen minutes during the night, see that all is safe, shut off escaping gas, &c.; the failure to do this to be punished by a heavy fine.

To another blunder attention may be called - the ordinance requiring the gas to be turned off from a building directly it is discovered to be on fire. It is an ill-judged and cruel law. The stranger unacquainted with the building, who is trying to reach the gas-light burning dimly in the dense smoke, sees it suddenly turned out, and himself left to darkness and to death.

Let all these aids to death be taken away b the Legislature and the Council.

[later in the same paper]

ST. JOHN’S DAY. - The Masonic celebration of St John’s day (yesterday) was very properly postponed on account of the death of Mr. E. W. Ross, a member of this fraternity in good standing.

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