The Great Salem Fire of 1914

Two panoramas of Salem after the fire, c/o of The Library of Congress. Click to expand:

Salem Fire panorama           salem fire panorama 2


Salem State University – Books, Pamphlets, and Documents

Salem State fire_thumbnailUniversity has digitized many documents pertaining to the fire. Click the link above to access full-text versions of these documents hosted by the Salem State Digital Commons.








Views of Salem : after the Great Fire of June 25,  1914

Views_of_Salem_1Fully digitized copy of this small booklet featuring 22 black and white photos published by the New England Stationary Co. in Boston, MA. This item is not yet dated.





 Salem Fire
In memorial of centennial anniversary of
The Great Salem Fire of 1914,
Salem Public Library created bookmarks highlighting
100 facts about the fire. The bookmarks are available
here for use by the public.

Fire Facts bookmark front                 Fire Facts bookmark back


Fire Facts

  1. The fire started at the Korn Leather Factory at 57 Boston Street.
  2. Within the three industrial districts, a total of 35 companies were affected by the fire, 31 were completely destroyed and 4 were partially burned.
  3. The fire raged for 13 hours.
  4. The fire caused 15 million dollars in damage.
  5. The fire devastated 253 acres of land in Salem.
  6. The fire destroyed a total of 1,792 buildings including 407 places of business.
  7. The conflagration changed downtown. Fifty-one streets were totally wiped out, and 48 were partially burned.
  8. Prior to the fire, Salem ranked third largest in the production of women’s shoes after the towns of Lynn and Haverhill.
  9. The Fire Department had 4 steam fire engines and 23 permanent men in their department.
  10. The towns of Peabody, Lynn, Swampscott and Boston all sent out fire equipment.
  11. Fire broke out on the afternoon of June 25th, 1914 at 1:37 p.m.
  12. Of the 23 firemen in the department, at the time of the fire, 9 were at dinner and 5 off for the day.
  13. At Naumkeag Steam Company, the only buildings to survive the fire were made of brick or reinforced concrete. All of the wooden mill buildings were burned to the ground.
  14. Joseph’s Church on Lafayette Street was almost completely burned down. Only the two towers on the edifice remained standing after the fire.
  15. After the fire, the Superintendent of Parks and Shade Trees, Warren F. Hale, added 925 trees to the burned area, or 353 more trees than were burned.
  16. The Saltonstall School on Lafayette Street replaced the original school on Hazel St. (at the intersection of Holly Street) and the Brown School on Brown Street, both which were destroyed by the fire.
  17. A new brick fire engine house was erected in Ward 3 on Essex Street on the site of the old engine house which was destroyed by fire.
  18. A new brick fire engine house was built on Loring Avenue, replacing the former engine house at the junction of Lafayette and Washington Streets.
  19. The fire left approximately 15,000 people homeless.
  20. For three days of firefighting, Salem firefighters received a base pay of $9.00.
  21. In early summer of 1914, Salem had experienced several days in a row of hot, dry weather.
  22. The number of casualties differs depending on the source. Numbers range from twenty as reported the day after the fire by The Salem Evening News to one as claimed by Prof. Donnell of Framingham State College in his comprehensive study of the Great Fire.
  23. Salem’s Electric Company was the only municipal building to survive the fire. It was constructed of fireproof brick and concrete in 1909.
  24. Salem Hospital, then on Charter Street, burned. Luckily, all patients and staff were evacuated safely.
  25. The fire destroyed 60% of the central city.
  26. Salem Common and Forest River Park were both used as “tent cities” for people burned out of their homes by the fire.
  27. The combined losses for the city’s entire shoe and leather industry amounted to $4.4 million.
  28. Of the 35 companies affected by the fire, 3 went out of business, 4 damaged plants rebuilt on the same site and 9 moved within the city to new sites. Another 14 relocated to neighboring towns such as Marblehead, Lynn and Beverly.
  29. To entertain the people in the makeshift “tent cities” at Forest River Park, there were band concerts in the evening.
  30. Between intense heat, low water pressure and the size of the fire, the fire department had almost no chance. The equipment of the day was no match for the Great Fire.
  31. Barber John Frazier’s shop burned completely to the ground. He pitched a tent just two days after the fire, set up a red-striped pole out front and resumed business on Boston and Federal Streets with a single barber chair.
  32. On July 13, A.J. Sylvester received the first official permit for a permanent building. He constructed a brick bakery at 16 Leavitt Street for J. Dube.
  33. Camps officially opened on June 26 with 950 refugees in Bertram Field at the high school, 1200 at Forest River Park and 150 at Camp Sherry near the Willows.
  34. Over 3000 people gathered to celebrate high mass at Forest River Park in the pouring rain on Sunday, June 28 at 10:00 a.m.
  35. Salvatrice Buccheri delivered twin boys prematurely during the chaos of the fire evacuation. They didn’t survive, and her husband Sebastiano placed the bodies in large jars to transport them during the rest of the evacuation.
  36. Victor Zdanowicz, had a store on Derby St. and moved because of the fire.
  37. Blubber Hollow, where the fire started, was so named because it was in the leather district where many early tanning oils were derived from whale blubber.
  38. The leather factories burned easily. They were constructed of wood, had no fireproof features such as slate roofing and siding, firebreaks or wired glass windows.
  39. Neighboring Marblehead suffered a devastating fire on the same date as Salem’s fire in 1877.
  40. The fire department used 10 million gallons of water to extinguish the fire.
  41. The Korn Leather Company, where the fire started, used exceptionally hazardous and flammable materials to make imitation leathers. The materials were stored without adequate precautions greatly increasing the risk of fire.
  42. Holyoke Insurance Company paid out $237,894.00 in claims.
  43. The orphanage on Lafayette Street was totally destroyed. The 100 children and 25 nuns housed there were moved temporarily to St. John’s Prep School in Danvers.
  44. An impromptu fireworks display was set off when flames engulfed the National Fireworks Building on New Derby Street. Spectators scrambled for safety.
  45. Of the people left homeless, ironically, 17 of these were firefighters.
  46. After the fire, the post office on Washington Street handled 3,000 change-of-address forms in a single day.
  47. Souvenir postcards appeared just two days after the fire.
  48. Beverly Farms summer resident and industrial baron Henry Clay Frick donated $25,000 to the relief effort and made his automobiles available in the days following the fire.
  49. The switchboard operators at the telephone company worked straight through the fire, heroically putting through calls, even when the windows were growing too hot to touch.
  50. Switchboard operators at the telephone building on Norman Street worked by lantern after the building lost power.
  51. Ruth Gannon Wade was allowed to go back home to see what was left. All she found was 11 cents that apparently had been in her piggy bank.
  52. The fire, which began with an unexplained explosion at Korn Leather Factory, stopped just yards from the Custom House on Derby Street.
  53. A book written by assistant chief of the fire department, Arthur B. Jones called The Salem Fire contains the most complete description available on the 1914 fire.
  54. A second fire broke out in North Salem at 10:30 p.m. destroying a score of buildings.
  55. Holyoke Insurance Company moved records of current insurance policies away from the downtown office, for safety, all the way down to Winter Island.
  56. The Young Men’s Christian Association threw its entire building open to the homeless and provided food for thousands in the large auditorium.
  57. To keep peace in the city and to deter looters, militia came from Lynn, Peabody, Danvers and Beverly. They were quartered at the big armory on Essex Street.
  58. The water supply was the chief cause for concern as the evening wore on. The Wenham Lake water supply was quickly exhausted and the only water available was the Peabody supply.
  59. The reconstruction of the burned portions of the city was left to the Salem Rebuilding Commission appointed on July 7th by Governor Walsh.
  60. The Salem Rebuilding Commission along with the Salem Chamber of Commerce revised the city building code after the fire.
  61. The new building code required lined chimneys, fireproof roofs, protected heating systems and many other fire-resistant measures in all new buildings.
  62. A total of 353 building permits were issued within 6 months of fire.
  63. Many streets were widened after the fire including Broad, Jackson, Congress and New Derby.
  64. To respond to future fires, the fire department was enlarged and modernized.
  65. The week of the fire 13,000 received rations issued by the militia. A month later, this number had declined to 3,440.
  66. During the first 40 days, 556 individuals were provided with transportation to friends and relatives in other cities.
  67. Naumkeag Mills, heavily affected by the fire, rebuilt at the same location. They employed close to 6,000 people in their factory.
  68. Relief funds flooded in to aid the city’s rebuilding effort. Chelsea, MA and Dayton, Ohio, remembering, one its fire and the other its flood, sent generous checks.
  69. “The burned-out district of the city was placed under martial law, and militiamen had orders to shoot looters on sight.”
    Jim McAllister, Salem News, 6/20/05, p. B5
  70. The first fire alarm was raised at 1:37 p.m.; the general alarm was raised at 1:41 p.m.
  71. There were more than 60 injuries directly resulting from the fire.
  72. The Hawthorne Building at 203-211 Washington Street was dynamited to create a firebreak.
  73. The Great Fire burned for 15 hours.
  74. National Guardsmen maintained order and hastily built tent cities to house those burned out through the summer and fall of 1914.
  75. The first three houses on Roslyn Street were dynamited to create a firebreak.
  76. Two houses on Essex Street were dynamited to create a firebreak.
  77. Five houses on North Pine Street were dynamited to create a firebreak.
  78. When the fire burned down Ropes Street, it took the engine house, St. Joseph Church and the parochial school.
  79. The businesses on Ropes Street affected by the fire were Goddell’s Garage, Zina Goddell’s, Paul Patten and others to New Derby Street.
  80. The number of militia on duty after the fire was 1,700.
  81. A relief hospital was established at the Salem Armory on Friday by Capt. Cutler, surgeon of the Eighth Regiment.
  82. Twenty-five hundred people were fed at the Salem Armory on Friday. Hot coffee and lunch were offered in a bread line.
  83. Many people left the city after the fire. The city’s population between 1914 and 1915 changed from 48,000 to 37,200.
  84. The cost of feeding the fire refugees was about $2,200 per day.
  85. The militia was relieved on July 7th, after twelve days’ duty, which cost the state $50,000.00.
  86. A woman bought a new pocket book the day before the fire. Going into her house in a hurry she snatched the new pocket book, saved it, but the money, over $50.00, was in the old one.
  87. A woman drew $1,500.00 to pay off her mortgage and was away from her home when the house burned down with her mortgage payment still inside.
  88. Early Thursday afternoon cars from Paine Furniture were sent to Salem to help move families.
  89. Pickering’s coal pile and Ropes’ hay were still burning on July 13th.
  90. North Church set up a maternity hospital in their parish house on June 28th. By July 2nd there were five babies and mothers there, two girls and a boy were born here.
  91. By noon on the day after the fire, the Ward Baking Co. had sent two tons of bread to Salem for the relief of the victims.
  92. After the fire, the Hood Milk Co. offered 1,000 pints of milk a day to be sent to Salem.
  93. Forest River Park had over 1,500 refugees living there. A large dining tent was set up to feed hundreds at a time.
  94. About one-third of all the telephones in use were burned, so special telephones were installed in the Now and Then Hall, to help with requested relief work.
  95. One of the first businesses to reopen was the Langmaid Lumber Company which erected temporary offices almost before the ruins were cool.
  96. At the Korn Factory, where the fire started, a worker Charles Lee panicked, jumped from the third story, and broke the bones in both his feet.
  97. One south Salem man packed his silverware and some other things into suitcases and brought them to Engine 1 house. His home burned up, but so did the engine house.
  98. Strong winds carried the fire away from historic Chestnut and Federal Street. The historic Pickering House and Oliver School were spared as a result.
  99. The Friday, July 26, 1914 Salem Evening News contained a complete listing of all departments responding to the fire and where and how they worked.
  100. A long drought preceded the events of June 25, 1914 causing water to be in scarce supply.

Leave a Reply