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Secrets of a Master Builder

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People & Events: St. Louis Fire, May 1849

In 1850, the year after the fire, the St. Louis city directory described the devastation it caused: "The whole length of the wharf from Cherry Street to the head of Duncan's Island, a distance of at least a mile, presented one almost unbroken line of either lurid light or brilliant blaze and thus was sealed the destiny of twenty-three steamers many of them among the best and largest in our trade; some just arrived with full cargoes on board; some in like condition just ready to depart; and others partially loaded, either in the act of receiving or discharging cargo."

In a letter to his brother, one eye-witness wrote [spelling and punctuation as in original]: It was about 10 O'clock last night when the steamer White Cloud was seen to be on fire I had just gone to Bed and heard the Boat Bells ringing so I thought I would go down When I got there Ed Bates was on fire to and when she got to Burning pretty well she Broke Loose and floating down the warf she fired all the Boats about 36 [23 is a more accurate figure] in number the Levy caught fire above Locust Street and swept evry thing down to the Old market… and as far Back as 2nd all the offices of the papers are destroyed except the Union… There is no telling how many lives are lost some Burnt some drounde and some Blown to pieces with Powder there has been seven bodyes dug out of the ruins some with their heads and legs and arms all Blown off."

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