Sunday, March 22, 2015

Today's Anniversary: The Great Fire of East Nashville

Ninety-nine years ago today, a large part of East Nashville was destroyed by a fire that originated at one house but quickly spread through wind-driven sparks.

The fire began March 22, 1916 in the North First Street home of a man named Joe Jennings. It quickly spread to a neighboring mill and then other houses along First and Dew streets. Wind gusts of 44 to 51 miles per hour helped the fire spread quickly to wood-shingled roofs throughout the neighborhood.

View from Tulip Street Church tower, Nashville, Tennessee, March 1916
Houses on the corner of 6th & Russell Streets with Woodland Street in the background.
Samuel Anderson Weakley Papers
Tennessee State Library and Archives

Nashville's fire chief telegraphed every city within 100 miles, asking for assistance, while local residents formed "bucket brigades" in an attempt to bring the flames under control. Gov. Tom C. Rye called in the Tennessee National Guard to help as well.

Engine Company No. 7, Nashville, Tennessee, n.d.
Library Photograph Collection
Tennessee State Library and Archives

In all, the fire destroyed more than 500 houses and left more than 2,500 people homeless. There were few injuries and only one fatality - a man electrocuted by a live power line - but the total property loss was estimated at more than $1.5 million.

Panorama of East Nashville after the Great Fire, 1916
6th Street is on the left, Russell Street is in the middle, and Fatherland Street is on the far right.
Library Photograph Collection
Tennessee State Library and Archives
(Click here for a larger view)

You can learn more about disasters in Tennessee, including the Great Fire of East Nashville, by visiting the Tennessee State Library and Archives' online exhibit. To access that exhibit, go to:

Nashville Banner, March 22, 1916
Newspaper Microfilm
Tennessee State Library and Archives

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State.

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