Albany, NY Fire Destroys State Capitol Building, Mar 1911
CAPITOL FIRE-SWEPT; PRIDE OF THE STATE IS QUICKLY A WRECK.
WITHIN FOUR HOURS MAGNIFICENT STRUCTURE AT ALBANY SUFFERS DAMAGE TO EXTENT OF $5,000,000.
ORIGIN OF FLAMES A MYSTERY.
Electricians Scout Theory of Defective Wirting and Place Blame of Lighted Cigarette -- Precious Records, Impossible to Replace, Provide Fuel for the Flames.
Albany, March 29 -- Five million dollars probably could repair the damage done by fire in the State Capitol to-day, but money cannot restore the historical records which were the pride of its state library.
Although the fire started in the northwest corner of the building, it caused the greatest navoc in the southwestern corner. Here the red-tiled pointed cupola fell, carrying down part of the carved granite work that supported it and a towering stone chimney.
The entire west wall above the second floor was blackened with smoke and many of the stone window frames were melted by the fierce heat. The granite cornice was ruined.
Pieces of granite varying in size from a dime to a man's head were split off and hurled to the ground below, where the sidewalks were heaped high with the debris. Conservative estimates place the damage to the exterior stone work at $2,000,000.
The interior masonry was damaged to the extent of $1,500,000 and the same sum will represent the loss on the contents of the State Library.
After examining the exterior walls State Architect WARE declared that the massive pile of granite was as plumb and true as ever and that the loss would be no greater than appeared to the eye.
The flames licked up the State Library, the Court of Claims, the Assembly Library and document rooms, most of the offices of the Excise Department and the quarters of the Senate Finance Committee and water and smoke took up the work that the flames laid down and the damage from this cause extends to every part of the building.
Flames Rage In Ruins.
The fire was still burning to-night in the ruins of what was once the beautiful cloud-painted ceiling of the State Library reading room, and the water kept pouring in from seven lines of hose. Water still dripped through the ceilings in nearly all parts of the west wing and cascaded down the stone stairs; but the fire was subdued and the work of repair had already begun.
A hundred national guardsmen stood guard in the deserted corridors to-night and fifty patrolmen patroled the streets outside to protect the dismantled end of the building.
State Business Hindered.
Next to the destruction of the historic records and the financial loss, the chief effect of the fire will be inevitable delay in the machinery of state government. Although the Senate chamber stands practically untouched and a few thousand dollars can restore the meeting place of the Lower House to its former beauty, a week or longer may intervene before legislative business can proceed in its acoustomed channels.
There was talk to-night of a recess, and only the constitutional requirement of taking a daily ballot until a United States senator is chosen keeps the legislators here. Such a recess was expected if the senatorship tangle should be unraveled to-morrow.
To-day both houses met in the City Hall, across a short stretch of park from the Capitol Building, the Senate in the Common Council chamber and the Assembly in the County Court room, where the joint session also was held, and the same arrangement will be followed to-morrow.
Temporary Quarters Secured.
The burned-out department forces found temporary quarters where they could, the Education Department, which includes the State Library, moving to the new State Normal College Building at the northwest corner of Washington Park.
Discussing the fire loss, State Architect WARE said to-night: "Based upon the original cost of the Capitol the extent of the damage would be between five and six million dollars, but in view of more economical methods of construction which can be employed in the restoration this amount can be materially reduced."
MR. WARE, will recommend that when the burned-out portion is restored the exterior be built as it was originally, but that the interior be remodeled to suit the other state departments which will occupy it.
The magnificent new building in process of erection for the Education Department on the north side of Washington avenue, diagonally opposite the Capitol, is nearly finished and by hurrying the work MR. WARE hopes that the department could move in there sooner than its old quarters in the Capitol could be repaired.
Describes Fire Damage.
The State Architect's official description of the fire damage follows:
"It would appear that the entire state library, located in the third and fourth floors, including the northwest and southwest pavilions are completely destroyed. This includes also the Court of Claims and some of the committee rooms of the Senate and Assembly. The ceiling of the Senate appears to be intact, and apparently no damage, except slight water damage, has occurred at this point."
"The western side of the Assembly, including the ceiling has suffered a slight fire damage and considerable water damage. The western staircase appears to have suffered damage principally at the fourth and fifth floors. Many departments on the first and second floors in the western portion of the Capitol have suffered more from water damage than from actual fire."
"On account of the dangerous condition of some of the interior walls and dormeries throughout the western section it would be inadvisable to use the offices immediately thereunder."
The state carried no insurance. The Capitol building had been regarded as absolutely fireproof and so firmly was this idea imbedded in the brains of most Albanians that when they were roused from sleep early this morning and told that the city's architectural pride was afire they laughed and expressed the belief that you might as well look for a spectacular fire at the North Pole.
And no criticism of the fire resisting qualities of the building itself has een heard. It was not the building that burned, but its contents, and the contents in the sections where the fire started were of the most inflammable material -- wooden shelving, books and pamphlets and loose papers.
Congestion which the new Educational Building was designed to relieve has increased for several years past, until the fourth floor space in the west wing did nearly four times the service it was originally intended for. Mezzanine floors and balconies were constructed to hold the rapidly increasing flood of books. In places this part of the building was like a rabbit warren, with the employes of the library and the pupils of the library school working in box like apartments surrounded by wooden shelves loaded with books and pamphlets. When the fire, starting among the papers in the Assembly Library, reached this portion of the building, it swept ahead with a fury that fused like wax, sandstone, granite and marble.
Precious Records Destroyed.
Most precious from the historian's standpoint, of the fuel the flames found in their path were the twenty-three manuscript folio volumes of the famous official records of the governors of the city of New Amsterdam, covering a period from 1630 to 1674. To have these translated the state last year appropriated a $3,000 a year and engaged A. J. F. VAN LAER to do the work, which was expected to take fifteen years. MR. VAN LAER'S partial completed translations were burned to-day with the original Dutch documents.
In addition to these the state lost the correspondence of Governor GEORGE CLINTON, 5,000 pieces in all, and the original letters of SIR WILLIAM JOHNSON and Governor DANIEL D. TOMPKINS.
In the office of the Regents Examiners were 170,000 examination papers received from the high schools of the state following the Hanuary examinations. Of these 50,000 were destroyed. Chief HARLAN H. HORNER of the examinations division said to-night that although these burned papers had not been rated, the pupils who wrote them would not suffer because the division would accept the rating on the papers already made by the teachers of the schools from which they came. Practically all of the destroyed examinations came from the big high schools of New York city.
Regents Record Untouched.
The examinations division also lost a large part of its files containing the application papers of candidates for professional examination, but as the index of these is saved the loss is not serious. The regents record of those who have passed their examinations since the system was instituted in 1878 was untouched.
The priceless colonial and Washington and Lincoln relics in the custody of the Education Department were in the big safe on the ground floor and were uninjured. These include the original manuscript of Washington's farewell address, the original of Lincoln's emancipation proclamation, all the original copies of the State Constitution and the Major Andre papers.
Among the documents lost were records dealing with the history of South Carolina during the Revolution. At the request of that state a bill was pending in the Legislature here to permit the department to turn them over to their original possessor.
On account of the fire, Governor DIX to-day cancelled his Buffalo trip, planned for next Friday and Saturday, when he was to have attended a Cornell alumni and Buffalo Ad. Club dinners, reviewed the Seventy-fourth Regiment and viewed the Niagara power plant.
The Post-Standard Syracuse New York 1911-03-30
Researched and Transcribed by Stu Beitler. Thank you, Stu!