The Great Seattle Fire of 1889

The Great Fire of June 6, 1889 was a significant turning point in Seattle's history and changed both the physical and political landscapes of the City. The fire started at 2:30 p.m. in a paint and woodwork shop at Front and Madison and over the course of the next 18 hours swept a southward across 100 acres of Seattle's business district and waterfront. The fire left little standing in its wake, consuming buildings, docks, wooden sidewalks, and anything else combustible. Losses from the conflagration were estimated at $20 million.

Pledges of aid came in from Tacoma, Olympia, Portland, San Francisco, Victoria, and large and small cities throughout the United States. Immediately following the fire, businesses reopened in makeshift tents, building reconstruction began, redesigning the physical features of the City was given a high priority, and the face of City government was radically changed. Within the year following the Fire, Seattle had been nearly rebuilt and its population increased by almost 33 percent.

Digital Documents

  • Petition and report to create a fire company in Belltown (April 11, 1884)
  • Petition of Fire Company #4 for a fire engine (January 16, 1885)
  • Report of Citizen Committee on replatting the city (June 10, 1889)
  • Report of the Fire and Water Committee on collision involving fire engine (June 1889)
  • Notice of election for a water works (June 26, 1889)
  • Appointment of Appraiser and Protest against Condemnation by H. L. Yesler (July 19, 1889)
  • Petition of J.T. Beadle for return of $600 deposited for liquor license (August 3, 1889)
  • Petition of H. Hershberg & Co. for reduction of assessment (August 16, 1889)
  • Report of committee on mayor's message regarding fire boat (August 17, 1889)
  • Policy on tents within the city fire limits (November 22, 1889)

Bibliography

Bagley, Clarence. History of Seattle. Vol 1, Chapter 23, "Seattle's Great Fire." Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1916.

Buerge, David. Seattle in the 1880s. Pages 107-115. Seattle: Historical Society of Seattle and King County, 1986.

Jones, Nard. Seattle. Chapter 10, "The Big Fire." Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Company, 1972.

Morgan, Murray. Skid Road: An Informal Portrait of Seattle. Pages 131-142. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1951.

Warren, James. The Day Seattle Burned. Seattle: James Warren, 1989.

The General Files (Record Series 1802-04) include correspondence, petitions, license applications, claims, reports and other documents reflecting both the effect of the Fire on individual citizens and the reaction of City officials. Citizens asked for refunds on business licenses and an extension of time to maintain businesses in tents. Officials were more sensitive to fire prevention and water supply and worked to establish a full-time, paid Fire Department.