Located on the Beautiful Savannah River in Downtown Augusta, Georgia   (706) 724-2485

The Fire of 1916

The Great Fire of 1916

  • The Great Augusta Fire starts at Kelly Dry Goods in the Dyer Building at the northwest corner of Broad and Eighth Street. An electric iron left on started the fire. Initial alarm to the fire department came at 6:20 P.M.
  • Fire departments assisting the Augusta Fire Department were: Waynesboro (14 volunteers and 2000 feet of hose); Macon (12 men, 1 motor pump and 22,000 feet of hose); Savannah (32 men, 2 American LeFrance motor pumps); Atlanta (14 men, 2 steam fire engines, 2,000 feet of hose); Charleston (8 men, 1 steam fire engine, 2,000 feet of hose); Columbia (men, 1 Robinson Motor Pump, 2000 feet of hose); Greenville (14 men, 1 engine, 33,000 feet of hose).
  • Before the church caught fire, many items were removed and saved by the Rector, G. S. Whitney, the Senior Warden, William K. Miller, and several others who came to help, some of them completely unknown. This process started in the Evening (“after supper”) because it began to appear evident that the fire may be slowly coming toward the church.
  • A brief service was held by the Rector, asking God that the church might be spared. Then those present began taking out what removable items were in the building and taking them to the Rectory and to the house of William K. Miller on Telfair Street.
  • Among the items that were removed to safety were:
    -Silver and parish records removed from the vault and taken to the Rectory.
    -Most of the Vestments.
    -The hangings.
    -The Service Books.
    -The movable memorials in brass.
    -The Chancel Rail was taken out by Dr. Fargo and a young woman, and buried in the yard.
    -The wooden furniture of the chancel including the bishop’s chair, reading desk, the litany desk, and the pulpit were removed by Mr. Miller and some others. They were found the next morning near the Southern Railway Bridge.
  • The steeple tower, or cupola, caught fire first due to masses of burning cotton sticking to its wooden construction. The sexton, Jeff, rang the bell until the rope burned off. Then the bell continued to ring due to the high winds. The flames were said to look like a flag waving due to the high winds during the fire. Men in the tower put out the fire “time and again” but it continued to catch fire. The cornice of the church caught next, and soon thereafter the Vason Cotton Warehouse next door exploded and enveloped the Parish House in flames.
  • The Parish House, not yet three years in use, was not fully paid for.
  • Every tree and shrub in the churchyard was killed by the fire except in the northeast corner near the Celtic Cross where some elms were unharmed.
  • Among the major buildings that burned was the YWCA on Reynolds Street, in a rented building that belonged to Saint Paul’s Charitable Fund. Most of the assets of the Charitable Fund were tied up in real estate that burned.
  • 80 families at Saint Paul’s lost their homes, representing almost one third of the Parishioners that that time.
  • The altar and other furniture was moved to the Rectory at 723 Greene Street, where the bay window area was outfitted as a chapel, properly vested with hangings and brasses.
  • Lost in the fire:
    -20 residence blocks and 6 business blocks. (Whitney says 35 blocks).
    -$5.5 – 6.5 million in value of losses according to early estimates.
    -600 residences were destroyed. (Whitney says 700).
    -3,000 people were homeless.
    -29,500 bales of cotton were burned up, worth an estimated $1.8 million.
    -No lives were lost and no limbs were broken. Just a few people were sent to the hospital with severe injuries.
  • The extent of the fire:
    -West – the United States Café in the 800 Block of Broad Street.
    -East – East Boundary Street.
    -North – The Savannah River.
    -South – lower Greene and Telfair Street, with one or two fires south of Telfair.
  • Major buildings that were burned:
    -In the 800 Block of Broad Street – The Dyer Building, $75,000; Richards Stationary, $25,000; Warren Block, $50,000; Contents, $100,000.
    -In the 700 Block of Broad Street – Union Savings Bank, $60,000; Postal Telegraph Building, $17,000; Empire Life Building (now Lamar Building), $200,000; John J. Evans, $20,000; Western Union, $20,000; Chronicle Building (now Marion Building), $180,000; Schneider Building, $15,000; The Herald Building, $15,000; The Commercial Club, $35,000; Masonic Temple, $30,000; Irish-American Bank, $25,000.
    -600 Block of Broad Street completely escaped the flames.
    -600 Block of Reynolds, however, was completely destroyed.
    -All cotton warehouses north of Reynolds and west of Saint Paul’s Church were destroyed, including Tubman High School (originally built as First Christian Church).
    -Houghton School on Greene Street.

March 23, 1916: The Morning After

  • Meeting of leading citizens is called for 10:00 A.M. at the City Council Chambers. Among those requested to attend to plan the relief and clean-up efforts were William H. Barrett, Lansing Lee, W. P. White, J. M. Hull, Rev. G. S. Whitney, Warren Walker, Bowdre Phinizy, C. S. Castleberry, F. H. Barrett.
  • A mass meeting of all Augusta citizens is called by the Merchants’ and Manufacturers’ Association. The purpose was to find a means to alleviate suffering and to “officially let the world know that Augusta is alive and will come out ahead as usual.”
  • A “Committee of Fifteen” is placed in charge of relief, with William H. Barrett acting as its spokesman. They needed in excess of $50,000, with $35,000 immediately subscribed. They had received $4,000 for Bon Air guests. Those needing assistance were to fill out cards, with confidentiality assured.

March 26, 1916

  • On the first Sunday after the fire, services were held in the Hall of the Daughters of the Confederacy at the Courthouse. Offers had been made to use the Sanctuaries of Saint John Methodist, First Presbyterian, First Baptist, First Christian, Holy Trinity Lutheran and the Synagogue. The Church of the Atonement and the Church of the Good Shepherd also extended their offer of assistance.
  • On the Sunday following the fire, Augusta was filled with about 10,000 visitors who came to see the damage by automobile and train. Hotels and restaurants did a booming business.

March 27, 1916

  • The Chronicle reported that about 75 insurance companies sustained losses of about $1,550,000. Mr. Glander of the Metropolitan Insurance Company went into his office in the Chronicle Building and saved their company records. They had approximately 30,000 Augusta policyholders. Many insurance companies immediately set up temporary offices in downtown hotels to deal with claims.
  • Remarkable buildings that did not burn in the fire included Jeff Thomas’ frame house on the South side of Broad Street, the Widow’s Home on Greene Street, two frame houses on the northeast corner of Greene and Elbert Streets owned by Jinks Burrus and A. H. Porter.
  • Fire Chief Reynolds blamed the fire on the following factors:
    -The Dyer Building’s method of construction caused it to be impossible to contain.
    -Many open windows caused a large draft inside the building.
    -The open elevator shaft was circled by wooden stairways, creating a flue effect for the fire.
    -Although it had concrete floors, they were laid over wooden supports, which burned and collapsed one floor at a time.
    -The building had inadequate fire escapes.
    -As the glass blew out, flames shot across the street, catching the Union Savings Bank.
    -Shoddy construction due to lax building codes and inadequate enforcement of the laws that did exist.
    -Lots of wooden back porches, stairways and outbuildings in close proximity to one another on the backs of lots.
    -A wind from the Southwest of 30-50 miles per hour continued to spread the flames.
    -Low water pressure made the use of fire hoses ineffective.
    -Shingle roofs served as kindling in spreading the fire from house to house.

March 28, 1916

  • Apparently in response to a discussion within the congregation, the Senior Warden and attorney wrote a letter to former Rector, C. C. Williams, expressing his opinion that if the church did not rebuild on the site, that the property would revert to the state. This was based on the wording of the original acts that required it to be used as a place of permanent worship and that the burial grounds be maintained.

April 2, 1916

  • Confirmation services are held in the rear of the church as previously planned, on the second Sunday after the fire. The Celtic Cross was the altar, with pews from the Grovetown and Saint Andrews Missions placed for an overflowing congregation. Bishop Reese presided with a class of 26 Confirmands.

April, 1916

  • A large tent with a wooden floor was placed on the west side of the churchyard for services during Holy Week. A small altar was borrowed from the Saint Andrew’s Mission. The tent was 50 feet in diameter and accommodated 300 people, but the heat soon caused services to be cut back to one in the early morning and one at 6:00 P.M. This site was discontinued in July 1916 due to the heat under the tent. Thereafter all services were held in the Hall of the Daughters of the Confederacy at the Courthouse.

April 24, 1916

  • The Easter Monday Easter egg hunt was held as usual in the back yard of the church, conducted by the Sunday School Department. 60 children attended the hunt and ate ice cream cones. The 100th Annual Meeting of the Parish was also held, with the election of the Churchwardens and Vestry, and much discussion about the rebuilding of the church upon the foundations of the old church. Tentative plans for rebuilding by H. T. E. Wendell, the architect, were presented for discussion.

Previous  Next

Return to Timeline Page