A selection of photographs, documents, and books that tell the story of the devastation brought on by the great Baltimore fire of 1904 and how Baltimore survived and rebuilt.
Collection Location: Maryland Department, Enoch Pratt Free Library / State Library Resource Center
Collection Overview: This collection consists of more than 250 images and 13 publications about the great Baltimore fire of 1904, including among the publications the act establishing the Burnt District Commission (BDC) and six of the BDC’s reports issued between 1904 and 1907. The phrase "burnt district" is used to refer to the more than 140 acres or 80 city blocks of the downtown Baltimore business district reduced to rubble by the great fire of February 7-8, 1904. It took only half an hour for a burning, six-story building to turn into a raging, out of control fire that would wreak devastation, with flames in some areas estimated to have reached temperatures of 2200 to 2400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Baltimore City officials and the State of Maryland were quick to respond in the aftermath of the fire. The Citizens' Relief Committee (CRC) and BDC were each established by an act of the Maryland General Assembly and put at the disposal of Mayor Robert M. McLane. The CRC was given a fund of $250,000 to disburse for the immediate relief of those individual citizens who had lost property in the fire. Financial aid came in from around the country as well. It is testament to the resilience of Baltimoreans that only a mere $23,000 was spent. The BDC set to work creating and implementing plans to clear away debris and rubble and to clear and widen streets and rebuild and open public spaces. It took three years to do it, but they played a significant role in helping Baltimore get back on its feet to thrive and flourish as a bustling metropolis once more.
Not all of Baltimore's buildings were lost in the fire. Fireproofing technologies had been incorporated into a number of historic buildings that still stand today. Although effective at fire resistance, these technologies were not foolproof, and lessons were learned that played a role in shaping some of the standards for the fireproofing of buildings today.
The documents in this collection tell the story of how Baltimore survived the devastation of and rebuilt after the fire of 1904.
Please note that German Street is now Redwood Street, and North Street is now Guilford Avenue. The street names that existed at the time of the fire are used in the data pertaining to the images in this collection.
Jones, Carlton. Lost Baltimore, a Portfolio of Vanished Buildings. Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins Press, 1993.
Petersen, P. B. The Great Baltimore Fire. Baltimore, Maryland Historical Society, 2004.
The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 (a virtual exhibit) at http://www.mdch.org/fire
Collection overview prepared by Bill Cady, Digitization Assistant, Enoch Pratt Free Library / State Library Resource Center.