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CHAPTER V.

SPREADING NORTHWARD.

FROM Summer Street, through all the avenues which  enter it from the north, including High, Devonshire, Otis, Arch, and Hawley Streets, the great destroyer bent its course towards State Street. The flames presented an impassable wall of fire from Washington Street to the bay, a distance of about half a mile. Throughout the whole extent it was pushed forward with fearful rapidity, and was soon into Federal, High, Franklin, Congress, Pearl, Purchase, and Broad Streets, consuming with resistless fury.

After taking Hawley Street, which runs near to Washington Street, and parallel with it, the fire attacked the rear of those fine structures between Summer and Franklin Streets which had for so long adorned Washington Street, that most frequented promenade of the capital, and soon after crossed northward into the buildings then standing between Franklin and Milk Streets. Large clothing-establishments, with their work-rooms filled daily with thousands of sewing-girls; jewelry-stores; photographers’ saloons; cigar-shops; confectioners’ stalls; eating-houses; barbers’ saloons; carpet-halls engravers’ chambers; hat and fur stores; salesrooms for cutlery, millinery, and furniture; wholesale apothecary-shops; warehouses for toys, books, and furnishing-goods; and, lastly, the new and ornamental building occupied by “The Boston Daily Transcript,” next to the corner of Milk Street, near which stood the old South Church, — all vanished before the deadly magician, leaving only toppling sections of front walls and unseemly masses of rubbish.

In Hawley Street the fire found, as it crept in from Arch Street, carpenters’ and painters’ shops, printing-offices, paper-stores, manufacturers of straw-goods and printers’ materials, together with private apartments; and, like a hurricane, it whistled about doors and windows Until the narrow avenue was everywhere choked with fire.

In Arch Street were dry-goods, furs, paper-collars, straw-goods, and small wares, worth an enormous sum, and which were nearly all destroyed. In Bussey Place, that opened into Arch Street, there were vacant dwellings, dealers in woollens, sewing-silks, and furnishing-goods; but they only served to kindle brighter fires, and to make a few more men poorer.

Otis Street, on the corner of which was the second building destroyed, and which at one extremity forms one side of Winthrop Square, was occupied by dealers in woollens, furnishing-goods, and hats, and by manufacturers of paper-collars and trimmings.

Devonshire Street was crowded throughout its entire length with wholesale dry-goods and wholesale furnishing and fancy goods. Millions of dollars had been invested in these large stocks, and but little was saved from the stores contiguous to Summer Street or Winthrop Square; and the heavens grew red and the clouds of smoke shone as silver above the ruin of so much wealth.

Franklin Street, which, in crooked, hap-hazard Boston, was the widest and best business highway in the city, with the exception of State Street, was the mart of the wholesale woollen trade, which had become of so much importance in the commerce of the city. There it was confidently hoped that the flames might be stayed. Alas! they were far more powerful than mortals; and they swept over and through the street with unhesitating rapidity. Can Mauna Loa be extinguished with buckets of water, or Popocatapetl be smothered with turf? Yet neither of those volcanoes appears more terrible than did the acres about Franklin Street at two o’clock on Sunday morning. The air was loaded with fire-brands; great sheets of fire were lifted skyward; and rings of flame curled away into space like great smoke-puffs of a starting locomotive. Every thing melted; and men would have melted in the by-streets if they had not fled. The tall staff which had so often supported the nation’s flag, and which was placed there. amid patriotic prayers for the safety of our common country, was wrapped about with ribbons of glittering red; and fiery serpents ran lightly up, and shot away into the air from its smoking ball. But over all. through all. and in all, glided the gloomy volumes of smoke, hiding from view much that was sublime, suffocating into defeat such as thought to battle longer. The din was terrific. Enormous bowlders fell incessantly; wide walls rumbled into the streets, making the earth tremble; the wind shrieked in the broken and ragged towers left standing; while men yelled, steam fire-engines buzzed and whistled, and heavily-loaded teams rumbled by in their flight from the searing heat. Water from a score of nozzles hissed through the air; while crystal streams gurgled along in the paved gutters, contrasting strangely with the tumult and glare about them. Even Franklin Street, with its high walls of stone, cemented like a fortress, and solid as the walls of Nineveh, bowed before the fire-king. If such be its power, there is no hope for any.

Federal Street, the next below Devonshire, was practically the dividing-line between the great marts of the wholesale dry-goods trade and the markets of the boot, shoe, and leather trade: so that it held some of both branches, together with many important wholesale storehouses of hardware, carriages, crockery, steel and iron, patent medicines, saws, locks, cutlery, plated ware, glass, groceries, clothing, and several founderies and manufactories. The fire reached Federal Street through the blocks which ran from street to street connecting it with Devonshire Street, and also by way of High Street, which was one of the first destroyed: consequently it gleamed into the rear-windows, and ignited the roofs of many buildings on the west side almost at the same moment. Soon the great avalanche rolled over it, burying it in clouds and fire: and those whose business-home had been there for many years, and who had learned to love its dull buildings and worn sidewalks, fled from them all with their arms full of valuables; and the Federal Street they knew and revered passed out of being.

Congress Street, from Milk Street to the bay, was practically the headquarters of the leather trade of Boston, and contained a great number of solid, plain stone buildings, built far more for business than for ornament, but which were, nevertheless, very costly and spacious structures. Into that street the terrific tide surged; and the first wave overleaped the buildings along almost the whole length of the street. It was ingulfed in fire for a long distance within a few minutes of the time when it first caught.

It was sad to think, as we saw the lurid reflections of internal fires shimmering with such ghastly reflections through the doors and windows, of the happy ones, who, but a few hours before, counted the huge piles of hides which would be needed the next week to fill the fast incoming orders from their widespread agencies. Even then, when the heat of an earthly hell was crisping their all, they might be sleeping that sleep of peace which only plenty can give. Hundreds of thousands of men were directly or indirectly dependent upon this trade. Tanneries had been sustained for months to make that stock of leather; and many, many weary hours of toil had been spent in shipping and in storing: yet there in a few minutes it disappeared forever in the ruin of the walls which enclosed it.

The breeze had increased to a whirlwind. All was calm on the bay, and scarcely a breath awakened the rustles of suburban leaves: but the intense heat, and what the philosophers term “the consumption of oxygen “in the air about the fire, set all the currents in active motion; and so fiercely did the wind blow, that it was difficult at times to stand erect. Timbers were detached while blazing, and carried out into the streets; roof-boards were pulled from burning rafters, and sent sailing and smoking away towards the harbor, great quantities of dust, ashes, and rubbish, flew upward with the smoke, or clashed around the corners with impetuous haste. Spectators saw, between the puffs of dust, fire in buildings, fire in the air, and sparks all about them; while the roaring grew louder, and the cannon-like bursting of heated rocks became more frequent and more terrible. Wilder and higher streamed the flames as they crossed the fated Federal Street, and bellowed into the solid structures which bordered on Pearl Street.

There they revelled with but little opposition. Crumbling and crashing as ever, melting safes, and pulverizing slate, granite, and marble, they clutched the high stacks of boot-and-shoe cases, and, with whiffs of their scathing breath, blew them in ashes away into the outer tempest like lung-vapors in the frosty air.

“By Heaven! it is a splendid sight to see,
For one who hath no friend, no brother, there.”

Men prophesied then, and with good show of reason, that the greatest boot-and-shoe market in the world was destroyed beyond recovery. So much wealth, so much stock, so many extensive warehouses destroyed, and so much probable delay in getting new supplies to meet the great demands, would have disheartened many. But Boston’s courage and zeal and hope were fire-proof; and; though there was nought but ashes to be found in the market, there was the best part of the shoe-dealer’s capital — viz., his energy — left to start with again.

So great was the heat upon the west side of Pearl Street when the flames from High Street reached the corner, that it actually baked the inner finish of stores over the way, until they smoked and blazed into bonfires. Then the east side of Pearl Street joined in the general conflagration, and soon streamed through into Oliver Street, where at last the fire halted, because of the wide unoccupied territory just brought to the level by the removal of Fort Hill, the unfinished buildings, and the skilful efforts of the firemen.

Northward, and still against the wind, pressed the fire, until Milk Street was destroyed, from the Old South Church, on the corner of Washington Street, to Oliver Street, with the exception of the new United-States treasury and post-office building, on the corner of Devonshire Street. There were clothing-houses, saddle-makers, thread-dealers, stationers, plumbers, printers, boot, shoe, and leather merchants, clock-makers, book-publishers, plated-ware manufacturers, wholesale millinery establishments, rubber-stores, paper-storehouses, wool venders, wholesale drug-shops, and salesrooms for crockery, hardware, chemicals, steam-engines, and many other important branches of internal traffic. Yet the fire paused not, but ran riot with demoniacal glee, as it scorched through the windows, and drove the excited owners away from their own doors.



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