How the Modern New York City Was Reborn From the Ashes of the Great Fire

The Great Fire of 1835 in New York City is something that is imprinted in the history of the nation forever. But history also recorded how, after the devastating December fire, the city had risen like a Phoenix from its own ashes, and eventually laid the foundation for the modern NYC as we know it now. Let’s have a look at the history of the city.

The Fire and Initial Struggle

The night of December 16th, 1835 was one of the coldest in New York City. The fire first broke out around 9 p.m. at the shop Comstock & Andrews on Merchant Street. As per officer William Hays, after engulfing the entire building, the fire broke through the roof almost immediately. The firemen rushed to the spot tapping nearby hydrants. But the East River at the foot of Wall Street was too icy to breakthrough initially, and even after they succeeded, the strong wind slapped the pumped water back in the opposite direction. As a result, they realized it was impossible to stop the flames with water.

The Damage

Meanwhile, nearly fifty buildings in that lower Manhattan area were set ablaze within 15 minutes. The merchants in the area started to salvage their stocks by emptying shops and piled the furniture, crates of wine, silks, and fabrics on the road. But the entire mass was turned to rubble by the fire. Saltpeter, gunpowder casks, and liquor barrels spilled at the dock area adding explosions to the fire. Soon, the entire downtown Manhattan with its churches, stores, and homes was on fire. Fortunately, the loss of lives was limited, but the ocean of fire destroyed a total of 674 buildings valued at $20 million, the same as $600 million today. That entire business district of New York City soon became known as the ‘Burnt District.’

The Revival

The then Mayor, Cornelius Lawrence, along with other officials finally managed to staunch the flame by blowing up several empty buildings in strategic positions to create a fire break. Eventually, the fire slowed down and by the early hours of 17th December, the seemingly endless fire was stopped. While grappling with the loss, the spirited locals started rebuilding just the day after. Several banks came with the aid of loans. The streets started to get fixed and widened. By January 1836, new buildings rose along Wall Street, business stores, warehouses, and pubs started to open, and several prominent members of society settled in the area, giving the ‘Burnt District’ of New York City a second life.