The 1840 Fire


The following account of this destructive fire is from the Jacksonian of April 30, 1840:

We hasten to announce to the public the heartrending intelligence that our late flourishing village is now one almost universal heap of ruins! The fire broke out about noon in the Exchange, recently occupied by E. Burlington, corner of Saginaw and Lawrence streets. The wind was blowing fresh from the west. It was soon found impossible to save the building. An effort was then made to prevent the fire from reaching the opposite side of the street; this was soon found impossible, as the wind freshened. The fire first caught on the east side of Saginaw street, we believe, in the building occupied by Messrs. Marsh & Hendrickson. It soon communicated to those on each side. The flames from both sides of Saginaw street now mingled into one, presenting a vast and uninterrupted sheet from one side to the other, and reaching far over to the east, consuming everything in its course. The spectacle at this period was truly awful and sublime! On the west side everything was swept clean down to the building corner of Saginaw and Pike streets; on the east, everything to Pike street,-about twenty-five buildings in all, besides barns and other outhouses! And this in the very heart and business of the place! The property destroyed is immense, which, with the buildings, cannot make the entire loss less than twenty-five thousand dollars!-perhaps greater. Every one acted with commendable coolness. The ladies, who turned out and carried buckets, water, etc., are worthy of all praise."

BUILDINGS DESTROYED AND LOSSES. West side of Saginaw street.— Mr. Asahel Fuller, tavern stand and barn,—loss estimated at $3000; H. Butts, tailor-shop, $300; William Phelps, store and goods, $1200; Julius Dean, drugs and medicines, $800; G. W. Williams, building occupied by J. Dean, $1400; S. Hodges, building occupied as tailor-shop by J. D. Wing, $400; Elisha Beach, three buildings, $2000; Calvin Herrick, groceries and building, $300.
East side of Saginaw street.—Pontiac hotel, with two barns, belonging to the Chapel estate, occupied by T. Purse, $3000; George Baughart's building, occupied by Caleb Bucknam as a tin-shop, $400; Friend Webster's grocery and provision store, $700; Robert Le Roy's building, $250; Geo. W. Williams' building, occupied by H. R. Marsh as a watch-shop, and J. Hendrickson as saddle and harness-shop, $1500; Robert S. Hanlen, general merchant, $5000; S. Hodges' building, occupied by R. S. Hanlen, $1500; insured for $800,-the only property insured; Wm. Draper's unoccupied store, law and justice's office, and dwelling, $1500; A. Lockwood's new store and stock, $2500; J. G. Farr, two buildings, one occupied by Mr. Brown as a dry goods store, and one by M. G. Spear, $1000; Draper and Hosmer, and G. O. Whittemore, two buildings, occupied by George Baughart and Wm. Robertson, groceries and provisions, $1600; Alonzo Barber's blacksmith-shop, barn, and other property, $500; H. B. Marsh, $100; J. Hicks, $50; J. Hendrickson, saddler, $500; total, $29,500.

This was a terrible blow to Pontiac, but the town soon recuperated from it, and the " burnt district" was rebuilt in a much more substantial manner than before. As in the case of the great fires in large cities within the last few years, there was general sympathy expressed by other communities, and substantial aid offered. This was by far the most destructive fire in proportion to the amount of property and business destroyed that Pontiac ever experienced. The total loss looks like a small sum to-day, but at that time it included almost the entire business of the place. The Hodges house was the only good building left on the west side of Saginaw street.
Source:  History of Oakland County, Michigan by Durant, Samuel W. Philadelphia: L. H. Everts & co., 1877.
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