Jacksonville Great Fire of 1901
One of Jacksonville, Florida’s major historical events is known as the Great Fire of 1901. On May 3, 1901, downtown Jacksonville was devastated by what started out as a small kitchen fire. As the kitchen fire began to grow, some Spanish moss next to a nearby mattress factory became engulfed by flames which then spread rapidly throughout the downtown area. In just 8 hours, the fire had made its way through 146 city blocks and had destroyed over 2,000 buildings. Seven people were killed during the fire and about 10,000 more were left without homes. The Great Fire of 1901 ended up being one of the worst disasters in Florida history and the third largest urban fire that occurred in the United States, after the Great Chicago Fire and the 1906 San Francisco Fire.
In 1901, most of the buildings in Jacksonville were wooden with wood-shingled roofs. The city had been suffering from an extended drought which left the outsides of buildings dry and prone to fire. Around noon on May 3rd, 1901, some workers at the Cleveland Fibre Factory left for lunch, and just a few minutes later, sparks from a nearby chimney started a fire in the Spanish moss that they had laid out to dry. At first, some factory workers tried to extinguish the fire with some buckets of water, which they had done in similar past situations. However, due to the wind picking up, the fire soon became out of control and spread from building to building faster than it could be contained. It’s said that the fire was so significant that the glow from the flames could be seen in Savannah, Georgia and plumes of smoke could be seen all the way from Raleigh, North Carolina.
After the fire, Florida Governor William S. Jennings declared martial law and sent several militia units to help with the immediate reconstruction. Jacksonville was returned to civil authority on May 17th. The one major church in the city to survive the fire was St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, which was built with bricks in 1887. However, the Duval County Courthouse was destroyed in the fire along with all of its real estate records. Now, real estate deeds in Duval County refer to “the current public records of Duval County, Florida” if the record was created after the fire, and “former public records of Duval County, Florida” if the records predate the fire.
Henry John Klutho was a significant figure in the reconstruction of the Jacksonville and designed buildings such as the Dyal-Upchurch Building, Carnegie Library, Bisbee Building, Morocco Temple, and the Florida Baptist Building. Many of his buildings were either demolished or abandoned in the 1980s, but some of them remain, such as the St. James Building which is currently used by the Jacksonville City Hall. The St. James Building was built on the site that previously held the St. James Hotel that burned down in the fire and is considered Klutho’s most significant achievement.