1908 City Hall Fire


On January 24, 1908, at 2:23 A.M., a fire was discovered on the 3rd-floor of City Hall. The air temperature was 17 degrees and falling, with a steady, brisk wind blowing.

The building housed City and County offices, Police headquarters and the jail. Also, the City Electrician's Office and Fire Alarm system were located on the 3rd-floor.

Because of the fire, the fire alarm system became inoperable, and was reported by citizens to Central Fire Station. The fire spread rapidly and extended into the dome.

A General alarm was soon sounded, with mutual aid requested from Auburn, Augusta, Bath, Biddeford, Lewiston, Saco, South Portland, and as far away as Portsmouth, N.H.

The Chestnut Street church and Union Mutual buildings sustained fire damage, and dozens of small fires were set from flying brands, as far away as Maple Street.

Early in the fire, City Clerk A.L.T. Cummings ran from his home to City Hall, and with assistance, nearly all records in the Clerk's and Mayor's offices were saved, as far back as when Portland was the Town of Falmouth in the 1700's. County records were mostly saved, except the records in the Register of Probate office were destroyed.

A number of firefighters were injured. The most serious was Chief Engineer Melville N. Eldridge, injuring both feet by stepping on hot embers with nails. Later, he was struck and thrown to the ground by the ladder pipe of Ladder 5, when the wooden aerial broke apart. He was carried across the street to his office in the Central Fire Station, and commanded the fire from his second-floor front windows.


"answering the bell" Since 1768


 City Hall destroyed, only walls left standing - Total Loss, approximately $600,000.

 Insurance, $80,000.

 Second time City Hall burned down, July 4, 1866. The walls are all that was left from the 1858 building.

 Fire discovered at 2:23 A.M., Alarm system not working because of the fire.

 1,000 Western Maine Jubilee Knights of Pythians in City Hall ordered to leave building.

 Severe weather conditions, Temperatures between 10 to 14-Degrees, winds up to 26 MPH.

 Chestnut Street Church and Union Mutual buildings damaged.

 Dozens of other fires started by flying cinders and brands, as far away as Maple Street.

 Mutual Aid summoned from Auburn, Augusta, Bath, Biddeford, Lewiston, Saco, South Portland, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

 Several Injured, including Chief Engineer Melville Eldridge, who was injured seriously twice.

 Chief Eldridge carried to his 2nd-floor office in Central Station and commanded fire from his front windows, and relayed orders to Assistant Engineer Thomas Payne in front of City Hall.

 Portland's only ladder truck with an aerial ladder (Ladder 5) broke when it was being moved.

 Third-floor City Electrician's Office and fire alarm system destroyed.

 Fire alarm system out of order, Chief tells citizens to call 395-1 by phone for a fire.

 City Clerk and other city officials did heroic work in saving city and county records.

 Cumberland County Register of Probates office records destroyed.

 All City Hall offices destroyed and were temporarily relocated to other city buildings.

 City Hall's Police headquarters and jail destroyed, prisoners were relocated or released.

 Congress Street electric car service out of commission.

Portland Fire Companies and Apparatus Used at City Hall Fire

Steam Engine 1 Hose 1 Chemical 1 Steam Engine 2 Hose 2 Ladder 1 (city service truck) Steam Engine 3 Hose 3 Ladder 2 (ladder & chemical combination) Steam Engine 4 Hose 4 Ladder 3 (ladder & chemical combination) Steam Engine 5 Hose 5 Ladder 4 (city service truck) Steam Engine 6 Hose 6 Ladder 5 (85-foot wooden aerial ladder truck) Steam Engine 7 Fireboat Steam Engine 8 Hose 8 Steam Engine 9 Hose 9 Hose 11 Spare Steam Engine Spare hose wagon various coal and exercise wagons

Two days later - second General Alarm fire on Middle Street in the Milliken Cousins building.