Monday, June 8, 2020

The Burlington Warehouse Fire on Saturday, September 30, 1871.

About two o'clock in the afternoon on Saturday, September 30, 1871, a fire was discovered on the second floor of the building known as the "Burlington Warehouse 'A',” situated on Sixteenth Street, near the corner of State Street; a large brick structure used for storage purposes, and extending 165 feet on Sixteenth Street, with a depth of 135 feet to the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railroad tracks.
This illustration is presented as a visual aid.
The warehouse was built in 1804, by R. McCabe, and was subsequently purchased from him by Sturges & Co., who used it as a general receiving depot. At the time of the fire, it was owned by Samuel M. Nickerson, president of the First National Bank, and leased to S.W. Ailerton, as a warehouse.

The building was valued at $50.000 ($862,325 today). In the basement were stored large quantities of whiskeys, high-wines, syrups, and empty barrels. The first floor contained sugars, machinery, groceries, and general goods. On the second floor was an immense quantity of broom-corn, and the third floor was piled a large number of agricultural implements and other machines, stoves, castings, and hardware.

The fire originated in the broom-corn (a grain, which is used for food for humans, animal feed, and ethanol production), midway in the building in all directions, and spread rapidly. A man named Charles Stearns, who was employed in the building, perished in the flames. Owing to the persistent labor of the firemen, the loss was confined to this building, the adjoining property—Burlington Warehouse 'B' and Burlington Hall—only suffered from water and smoke damage. 

The value of the stock stored and of the building was estimated at over $650,000 ($14,057,300 today). The loss of the building and its contents was supposed to be covered by insurance to the extent of about $350,000. How much of this was ultimately recovered, it's impossible to say. 

After the destruction of the Post-office building in the Great Chicago Fire, eight days later, and the Federal offices were moved to Burlington Hall, making it a historic structure. The warehouse fire was reportedly caused by an incendiary device.

Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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