“What men could do, was done, and more was dared” — New York State Quarter Coin

Today, the New York State Quarter Coin remembers the Great Fire of New York City of 172 years ago.

From the Niles National Register of July 26, 1845:


The New York fire of the 19th July, 1845.

The number of buildings destroyed, far exceeds what was stated in the postscript hastily inserted in the last  number of the Register.

The following is the list since published:

Buildings burnt on
Broadway – 50
Broadstreet – 130
Beaver – 85
New – 86
Marketfield – 65
Exchange Place – 51
Merchants’ Court – 10
Stonestreet – 41
Whitehall – 15
South William – 13
Total – 546

The fire commenced at 3 o’clock on Saturday morning, and was not subdued until one P. M.

A stiff gale prevailed at the time, from the south, which increased during the conflagration.

It originated in New street, three doors from the corner of Exchange Place, in a sperm oil store, belonging to J. L. Vandoren.

It immediately spread to a chair factory next door to Exchange Place, and thence through to Broad street and to the corner of Exchange Place.

The progress of the flames was so rapid, that it was with the utmost difficulty that the inmates of many of the buildings were saved.

Dreadful explosions. About 4 o’clock, whilst the fire was raging with great violence, a tremendous explosion took place, from the store occupied by Crocker & Warren, which destroyed six or seven buildings, sent a shower of blazing timbers in every direction, and shook the whole city like an earthquake.

The concussion was so great as to smash more than a half a million panes of glass in the neighborhood, to the extent of 200 yards distant.

Immediately after the explosion, fire was discovered at four different points, showing that the entire block in the rear was in a complete blaze.

After this the fire spread down on both sides of Broad street; thence through to Broadway, taking both sides of New street, including the Waverley House, which is destroyed; then down Broadway towards the Bowling Green.

On the other side it extended to Wall street, and it came near reaching the magnificent Merchants’ Exchange before it could be stopped.

Both sides of Exchange Place between Broad and William streets, and half way down to William, were burned.

The fire in Broad street extended to Beaver, through the latter to New street, both sides of which are in ruins.

The stores burnt were principally occupied by merchants, and their contents were of great value.

The flames spread with such rapidity, and the panic created among all classes by the explosion was so great, that very little property was saved.

And in only a few cases were even the books rescued from the burning buildings.

The Journal of Commerce, says: “The explosion was tremendous, and produced the utmost consternation throughout the lower part of the city. The office of this paper seemed as iſ topping to its base. The printers’ sticks were thrown from their hands; and the gas lights suddenly extinguished in a part of the building added to the terror and confusion of the scene. We experienced no damage, however, except the breaking of window glass.

“Nearly every building in Wall street, and in fact in all the streets contiguous to the burnt district, had its windows more or less injured, and in some instances whole sashes were dashed in, and the large massive doors of the stores either swung open, or were detached wholly from hinge and bold, and thrown into the center of the buildings.

“Such was the effect of the explosion on the Merchants’ Exchange, as to burst in the windows, breaking large quantities of the thickest plate glass. Even the interior doors were burst open.

“The explosion occurred in successive shocks, previous to which the atmosphere was irradiated with brilliant flashes of light tinged with every variety of color. The air was immediately after filled with balls of fire and burning beams, some of which of huge size were thrown to an incredible height and distance.

“A heavy burning rafter struck on the roof of Banker’s Mansion House. The explosion was heard on board the steamboat Champion while seven miles from the city, and startled the passengers from their berths.

“It was also heard at Hempstead and at Newark. Capt. York of the brig Milton, as well as the captain and passengers of the brig Savannah, off the Highlands, heard the report and felt a concussion.”

Another paper says: “So awful was the shock that the thick plate glass in nearly all the buildings in Wall street was broken in fragments and strewn over the pavement, in many instances the substantial window sashes themselves being broken in.

“The concussion in this office, some three hundred yards distant, was so severe that the substantial stone walls of the building were shaken to their foundations, and it was thought for one moment that they were tumbling to their base.

“The workmen in the composing room in the fifth story found the stone on which the form was making up rose several inches from the resting place, the gas all went out instantly and during the darkness that followed, the scene was, to say the least of it, an exciting one.

“The workmen employed in the press and engine rooms in the basement story, fully believing that the entire building was about to come upon them in mass, flew with rapid stride into the street.”

The Fire Department is said to have been most admirably conducted throughout.

What men could do, was done, and more was dared.

One life at least, was lost, and two engines (No. 22 and 42) were crushed under the falling ruins — their daring firemen escaping as if by miracle.

The escape of Mr. Hart of engine No. 42, would be considered incredible, but it was witnessed and certified by numbers.

He was blown from the roof of the store on Broad street, in which the explosion took place, to the roof of another store on New street — a distance of probably 150 feet — and he landed on his feet and sustained no other injury than a slight bruise of his ankle.

The firemen and operators from other towns within reach, such as Brooklyn, Newark, Williamsburg, &c., were prompt in reaching the scene and affording effective aid.

The Police Department was never more efficient and rendered themselves popular. The mayor was at home in his duties, an excellent executive officer.

The Military were ordered out. A regiment at a time paraded as guards to the immense piles of property, which was exposed, and in aid of the police. Depredators were promptly arrested.


The New York State Quarter Coin shows with an artist’s image of the explosion during the Great Fire of July 19, 1845.

New York State Quarter Coin