Was the Chestnut Street rowhouse fire the largest in York County’s history?
This 1995 photograph shows the burned out Thonet Industries complex two years after the fire, one of the largest in the past two decades in York County. Background: Colonial York, Pa.? No, try Victorian York, Pa. and York County … ‘A smorgasbord of architectural styles’ and Fire-damaged Women’s Club of York restored.
The question is going around. Was the Chestnut Street rowhouse fire this week the largest ever in York and York County?
It was a big one, displacing 61 people from 26 families who had lived in the 16 damaged rowhouses. The short answer is that a fire in 1856 took out an entire York city block including 17 buildings of mixed uses.
Undoubtedly, the largest fire in York County was the burning of the covered bridge across the Susquehanna River during the Civil War.
U.S. militia set the bridge on fire in 1863 to prevent the Confederates from crossing the river and taking Harrisburg from the east. Some might split hairs and note the bridge was part of Lancaster County, as is the river. But the blaze took out numerous buildings in Wrightsville, too.
But if we’re talking about peacetime fires, there’s a long lineup to consider.
Here is a sampling compiled from my “Never to be Forgotten,” and York Daily Record/Sunday News files:
· 1803: Barns and some houses mysteriously burn in the York area as part of the “Conspiracy of 1803” plot. Some in the black community secretly torch the buildings following the conviction of a black woman for allegedly trying to poison two York residents. Almost every day for three weeks, some part of town was set on fire.
· 1856: A fire starting in a stable and fanned by high winds consumes an entire block in York. The blaze destroys 17 frame buildings.
· 1904: Three firefighters die in a blaze at York Carriage Co.
· 1912: A fire at T.A. Myers & Co., a four-story brick cigar box and box label printing factory in York, causes more than $100,000 in damage.
· 1942: Police suspect an arsonist touched off a blaze that claims the Old High School on West Philadelphia Street in York. “Before it ended 13 hours later, hundreds of Yorkers had assembled, attracted by glowing skies and repeated sounding of fire alarm bells, to witness the school’s final hours,” a witness said.
· 1958: A blaze causes $500,000 damage to several stores in Jacobus and leaves six people homeless. Firefighters from eight fire companies kept the fire from spreading to two rear warehouses containing a $750,000 stock of new furniture and appliances.
· 1968-69: The York race riots included perhaps uncountable instances of arson to city businesses, public buildings and residences.
· Nov. 23, 1985: Patrons discover fire in the women’s restroom of Roll ‘R’ Way Family Skating Center East. About 100 children and teens escape injury. The fire causes $500,000 damage to the Springettsbury Township landmark at 2808 E. Market St.
· June 6, 1988: A fire at Schmuck Lumber Co., 225 Railroad St., Hanover, causes $1.5 million in damage.
· July 16, 1989: York Snacks Inc. warehouse, West Manchester Township, sustains nearly $1 million in damage.
· Dec. 3, 1989: Snyder’s of Hanover Distribution Center sustains more than $1 million in damage.
· 1990: An arsonist, who was later caught, sets off a more-than-$1 million blaze at the Christian School of York.
· 1990: Bad wiring is blamed in a $3 million fire at the former St. Francis Preparatory School in Spring Grove.
· April 5, 1990: Ten people are hurt when a fire at Klefel’s Store in downtown Hanover causes $1 million in damage.
· Dec. 7, 1991: Damage from a fire at Leaner True Value Mart & Home Center, 450 E. Philadelphia St., reaches $1 million.
· Dec. 15, 1991: Fueled by fierce winds, a firestorm breaks out at The Factory Store, 585 Baltimore St. in Hanover, burning the bedding outlet and six apartments in the building and causing $1.2 million in damage.
· Dec. 12, 1993: More than 100 firefighters from six departments fight cold temperatures, high winds and freezing rain for about six hours to control a blaze at Thonet Industries in York. Damage is estimated at $2 million.
· June 25, 1998: A four-alarm fire destroys Stoner’s Auction in Glen Rock. More than 100 firefighters from throughout the area, including some from Maryland, are called to the fire.
· July 22, 1998: Fire destroys five buildings in downtown Hanover, forcing the evacuation of more than 30 residents and requiring the efforts of more than 100 firefighters.
· July 11, 2000: Fire rips through the abandoned four-story Nabisco building on Pattison Street in York, destroying the interior of the brick structure. A York teen admits to starting the blaze.
· July 2, 2001: An arson fire at Darrah’s Auto Sales causes at least $1 million in damage. The auto repair business is located on East Prospect Street in York.
· Jan. 10, 2003: An arson fire that ravages four row houses on East Princess Street in York displaces 23 people and causes more than $250,000 in damage.
· Dec. 21, 2004: Inferno guts the Wrightsville foundry owned by Electro-Platers of York. Because of chemicals stored on site, residents in a three-block area were asked to stay inside immediately after the fire.