At 10:48 am on February 7, 1904, Baltimore’s great fire started with an explosion at the Hurst company building on the western side of the city. Just over twenty-four hours later the flames were under control, but most of downtown was destroyed with few structures surviving the intense heat. The conditions were so extreme that entire city blocks were gutted, while others were spared as the fires swept over them. Remarkably, City Hall, the Courthouse and the Old Post Office were left untouched. Charm City rebuilt rapidly, using the opportunity to improve the town’s design. The Great Fire of 1904 marker is attached to the west side of the Port Discovery building. The Centre Market Tablet and General Booth Fountain are nearby.
I’ve been tracing the cause and path of Baltimore’s Great Fire of 1904 and was thinking of mapping the area of the blaze, comparing pictures from then and now. This great website has already done all of this and much more, plotting the stages of the fire as it rolled north, east, and south through downtown. The event was apparently caused by an explosion at the Hurst Company building, the blast occurring at 10:48 am on an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning. Due to extreme winds and very narrow streets the flames were able to jump entire city blocks, leaving some areas untouched amidst the devastation.
Several buildings survived the fire including the Union Trust Company (or Jefferson Building) at the corner of Charles and Fayette Streets. The structure’s windows had been blown out by nearby attempted preventative dynamiting, leaving the building vulnerable. The inside burned completely out but the steel frame survived and the building is still in use today. This picture shows the grand old post office, city hall and the courthouse just at the edge of the fire’s devastation zone. A last and sudden change in the direction of the wind towards the south saved the historic buildings from destruction.