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A Portent of Things to Come: Major fire engulfs Wrightsville’s riverfront a year before the Gordon Expedition

August 28, 1862, started out as a quiet day for the citizens of Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. People went to work at the bustling factories along the riverbank or shopped in the stores that lined Hellam Street. People idly gossiped or discussed the news of the day, because the newspapers brimmed with the latest war news from down in distant Virginia, where names such as Jubal Early were becoming prominent. However, in a startling portent of General Early’s unforeseeable official visit to Wrightsville less than a year later, dark plumes of smoke filled the might sky and flames reflected off the Susquehanna River. By nightfall, much of the riverfront section along Front Street was engulfed in one of the most significant fires in the town’s history.
However, this major event largely remains forgotten today, especially in the wake of the subsequent fire less than a year later on June 28, 1863, when much of the same vicinity was again consumed by a significant conflagration, this one ignited by flaming embers from the burning Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge. In the 1862 fire, the fire fighters were Wrightsville and Columbia volunteers; in 1863, they were the Georgia Volunteers (Confederate infantry, that is).

Philadelphia Public Ledger, September 2, 1862. Image courtesy of

Many of the same businessmen mentioned in this article would be filing damage claims after the war for the destruction of their property caused by the 1863 bridge inferno. A few never recovered from the double destruction.