Fire broke out in the morning of Wednesday September 7th, 1887 and by the end of the day most of the village of Newburgh north of the rivers was destroyed. The cause was determined to be children smoking in a hay barn owned by Dr. Duff. James Davy who was married to Nancy Keller, was a shoemaker in the village and they not only lost everything but he was badly burned trying to save bails of leather that was stored in the basement of the house. Well more than 200 people were left homeless and the village never really fully recovered. Below are two articles written by the Kingston paper, the first one from frantic reports during the fire and the second article the next day. Thanks to Digital Kingston for posting the Kingston paper online. It has made life so much easier.
The Daily News Wednesday September 7, 1887
A FIRE TODAY BURNS THREE-FOURTHS OF THE VILLAGE
Two Hundred People Homeless – The Fire Sweeping
Across the Fields – Two Men Fatally Burnt
The news special correspondent at Newburg telephoned in this morning at eleven o'clock that a fire was raging in that village and that the prospects were the place would be destroyed. There was great excitement, and people were rushing hither and thither looking for their children and members of their families who were missing. A strong wind was blowing and the flames were leaping from one building to another with lightning rapidity. It appeared as if a dozen houses would become ignited at once, so that people were at a loss to know where to begin to fight the flames. At the outset they were confused, bewildered, but soon the villagers became desperate and began the fight with a determination, which indicated victory or death. Our correspondent's last words were: "I’ll have to stop, because I cannot hear. The excitement is terrible; will call you up later."
At one o'clock the line to Newburg was again in communication with the News office, and the sad intelligence being sent over it. At eleven o'clock the steam engine from Napanee reached the village, which is only seven miles distant, and all the men in the vicinity went to work, and at the end of an hour and a half the flames were under control. Houses were pulled down in order to stop the progress of the fire, but owing to the strong wind, huge cinders were carried for miles and dropped among tinder and stubble, making fires to the right, fires to the left, and fires all around. The workers, however, continued their efforts to within the village and they were rewarded with victory, but not until all but about a quarter of it was consumed. So that an idea of the conflagration can be ascertain, below is given a list of nearly all of the buildings which were consumed:
Grange's drug store
T. F. Johnson's dry goods store
Jas. Daley's residence
Charles Ferris' grocery
J. T. Harris' residence and barn
Mr. Lanseer's harness shop
Mr. Rook's residence
Mr. Patton's drug store and house
Mr. Stone's butcher shop and dwelling
McConnell's tailor shop and dwelling
Boax's hotel, stables and sheds
W. Cooper’s dwelling and post office
Saul Hooper's dry goods store
C. Thompson’s house, barn and stables, also pool rooms and tables
Mr. Wells's harness shop
R. Brooks' jewellery store
James Sutton's residence
Mr. Knight's grocery store
W. A. Bell's barn and contents
The paper company's wood yard
John Varley's residence
Hugh Howie's residence
John Taylor's factory
Mr. McLellan's house and barns
W. Holmes' house and barns
John Louck's residence
Mrs. Torrington's house and sheds
Myles Patton's two stores
The Burdette hall
T. Johnson's residence.
J. W. Courtney’s residence and sheds.
J. Burdett's house and carriage factory
John Wells' residence
John Louck's house and stable
Charles Fry's house and stable
Henry Finkle's new house
E.W. Hope's residence
The railway station and telegraph office, coal sheds, lumber yard, lumber, and a number of cars loaded with paper from the paper mill.
The Masonic lodge rooms and furniture
There are other sufferers, but their names were not learned in going to press. It is reported that cinders carried to the village of Camden East set three houses there on fire, and they were burnt to the ground.
The fields around Newburg are on fire, and the wind is carrying the roaring flames into the bush. If the brush catches, there is no telling what the end of the conflagration may be. The Paper Mills are shut down, and the men and horses were placed at the disposal of the village. There is a good supply of water.
Two men were seriously burnt and it is not expected that they will recover.
The fire originated in Dr Duff’s barn, the hay making lively blaze. The second building consumed was Grange's drug store. Newburg has a population of 900 souls. It is estimated that between 200 and 300 people at all events are homeless. Barns and all available buildings are being occupied by the homeless. Very little furniture was saved, so that all those out have lost their houses and home’s comforts. People, who went to help others to site their homes, learned a little later that their own places were burning, hence amid the confusion very little was saved.
The Daily News Wednesday September 8, 1887
THE SCENE OF THE FIRE
HOW NEWBURG WAS DEMOLISHED YESTERDAY
The Scenes Which a News Reporter Witnessed – The Homeless Wandering on the Streets – Several Very Sad Cases - Help Wanted
Newburg this morning presented a scene of desolation, the centre and business part of the village having been laid waste yesterday by fire. After word had been received in Kingston of the destruction going on, a News reporter left for that place to secure all the information possible. Passing through Odessa to the right would be seen clouds of smoke ascending heavenwards. What remains of the village was reached shortly before six o'clock, and the sight that met the eye was appalling. On both sides of the main street, after crossing the bridge, nothing but burning embers could be seen. Crying women and children were scattered about in every direction. Men, half crazed by their losses, were walking listlessly about, seemingly not caring what happened. The centre of the street was warm with the intense heat which had prevailed. When the reporter arrived the Napanee firemen were engaged in gathering their apparatus preparatory to leaving for home. When the fire first broke out, a small hand engine belonging to Newburg was brought into requisition, but it was comparatively useless and as the flames quickly spread, the telegraph wire was brought into use. Napanee called up, and a message for help sent over the wires. One hour and five minutes after the dispatch was sent over the N. T. & Q RR a special dashed carrying the fire laddies and their engine. Newburg People state that never were they so thankful for anything as when the help came. The visitors worked bravely and after six hours of toil and labor they were rewarded by seeing the flames stayed. The origin of the fire is attributed to small boys who were smoking in the barn adjoining the residence of Dr. Duff and John Grange's drug store. Mr. Grange used the upper part of the barn as a store room, while in the lower part, Dr. Duff kept his horses. The fire was first discovered shortly after 9 am. Dr. Duff who was in his surgery at the time, hearing a voice calling “fire, fire," ran into the yard, and found the barn in flames. With difficulty he rescued his two horses, and buggies, and as the flames were spreading rapidly, he notified Mrs. Duff and Miss Strange, of Kingston of the fire. Mrs. Duff hurried out, and Miss Strange remained behind to secure some articles, and Dr. Duff seeing that she was in danger rushed in after her, and at was with difficulty she was rescued. Of all his furniture, only a sewing machine was saved. All his books collected from early youth up, were destroyed, as well as his medical instruments, worth hundreds of dollars. On these and his furniture, he had no insurance; consequently his loss can be estimated. His business books were also destroyed; thus the doctor is placed in a most undesirable position.
After the fire had burned for a short time the high wind blowing at the time carried the cinders across the street, and ignited the store of Thos. Johnston, which also quickly fell a prey to the devouring element. At this same time Dr. Duff’s horses being on a corner, the three houses on the other corner also caught fire, and burned furiously. Back of each house the flames spread until at one time, over seventeen buildings were burning furiously. The residents became terribly excited, and people were running hither and thither, unable to do anything. Many attempted to rush down the street and were scorched. Until the help arrived from Napanee, nothing could be done, as the heat was so intense, no person could go near the burning buildings. Men and women were helping neighbors to remove their furniture and things, when they were warned that their own places were on fire. Some people in removing their furniture, placed it at what they thought a safe distance away, but they were mistaken, as in many cases it took fire and was destroyed.
After John Wells' harness shop had ignited, R. Rooks' jewelry store followed next. Mr. Caton's house and store on the east side followed, and then the town hall blazed up. At this time sheds and stables in rear of the places mentioned were burning furiously, and the high wind carrying the cinders, set fire to W. A. Bell’s barn two miles away, and burned the building with all its contents. Jas Davy, shoemaker, besides losing everything he owned, was badly burned. He was assisting his neighbors in remove their things when he was notified his own house was in flames. He entered what then his home, and which was fast disappearing. Seeing that he could not save any of his stock or furniture he descended to the cellar after two bales of leather, but there the smoke choked him and friends hearing his wife scream, he was pulled out of the burning building with much difficulty. His arms, back, neck and face were badly burned, and Dr Duff had to turn his attention to him. His injuries were dressed in the best manner possible, all the doctor's drugs having been destroyed.
Just as darkness was settling down and as the wind was getting fresh, the News reporter, with his overcoat buttoned tightly around him, took a walk through the village and a sorrowful spectacle met his sight. Husbands and wives, with their families gathered around them, stood looking at all that is left of their homes. Some were lamenting their misfortune, while others could not realize their positions, everything seeming to them like a dream. Among the most unfortunate were James Davy and his wife. His arms and neck were swathed in bandages, and as he stood gazing on the ruins, he remarked: "Last night I was worth $3500 or $4000; tonight I have not a cent.” His wife burst into tears. Everything they owned in the world had been swept away in an instant, as it were. The coat which was wrapped around Mr. Davy’s shoulders, was borrowed, while Mrs. Davy was hatless all their clothing having been destroyed. The old gentleman stood muttering to himself as he looked at the site of his old home and tears rolled down his cheeks. He was asked where he would stop, and he said: "Don’t know." A kind hearted villager, who had not been burnt out then came up and asked the old couple to make his home their resting place, till they secured another home. His offer was accepted and the old man and his wife moved away. This is only one instance of the many sorrowful sights which were witnessed. Here and there burning embers yet flickered and cast a weird look over the desolate place. Walls of stone buildings that remained loomed up as monuments of the disaster, while flickering lights gave instantaneous glimpses of hundreds of people gathered in knots here and there on the field of ashes. The sight was one never to be forgotten. Barefooted and homeless little children were frequently met.
Mr. John Burdett was interviewed, and he estimated his loss at over $10,000. On his property which was destroyed, he had no insurance. He is not discouraged. He will remain in the village, and at once start to build again. He believes that it will be years before the place will again be as prosperous as it was. Mr. Burdett was the only villager, of a large number who were spoken to, who had decided as to what they will do. The only hotel in the place is in ashes, and there is no place for a traveler to stop. Last night not a pound of butter could be secured, or a loaf of bread for love or money. Every store is in ashes and the stocks were consumed. Many who had no place to go last night slept where they could lay their heads. When the word was passed around that the post office was on fire there was a great rush to secure letters, and later when the telegraph office began to disappear, residents say that a feeling of utter loneliness, crept over them, as they felt as if everything connecting them with the outside world was disappearing; as if the last link connecting them with friends was being severed.
Mr. John C Wells in attempting to save some articles of furniture had his legs and body severely burned. His injuries are painful, but not dangerous.
One disgraceful feature of the disaster was that some parties indulged in thieving to a considerable extent, carrying off boldly what they could lay their hands on. This morning a meeting was to be held of the sufferers when something would be decided upon to assist those who are in want. By giving a description of the place, those who have been in Newburg can understand the devastation. After passing over the bridge, and by the paper mill, every place on both sides, of the main street with the exception of about a dozen buildings are destroyed. From the town hall, back to the N. T. & Q R R station every stick of wood, small shed or building was swept away. A large quantity of lumber owned by the Rathbun Co., burned like match wood. Dr. Duff’s residence and John Grange's drug store, took fire simultaneously. These were followed by Wells' harness shop, and the billiard room. Then A. Caton's store ignited, and the roar of the flames was awful. While Caton's store was burning, the town hall, owned by Mr. J. Burdett, ignited, and from that moment houses all over the village were set on fire, and confusion reigned. When a house caught fire, the owner had to remain idle in many cases and watch his property disappear, as the Napanee engine was working where it would do the most good.
The woods surrounding Newburg, which caught fire, burnt only for a few hours, and at ten o'clock last evening, they had been extinguished. Many of those, whose homes were destroyed, went to Napanee on the train while others went to Clark's Mills. Hope’s Hotel is a thing of the past and the reporter was very glad to be able to feast on rye bread and half cooked potatoes. The peddler with butter, meat and provisions, who would pass through the burned village today, would sell goods like hot cake. The roof of the paper mill was saturated with water to keep it from igniting. A correct list of the places burned is as follows:
Jas Davey, shoemaker
W. Sutton, butcher
C. Sturm, groceries
Hopper and Paul, general store
Chas. Thompson, residence
J. Lamfield, harness shop
Telegraph Office, C P R
J C Wells. Harness shop
D A Burdett, residence and machine shop
E I Knight, grocer
Miles Caton, dry goods and hardware
Thos. Johnston, dry goods
W. Grahame, drugs
R Roake, jewelry
T. Lovell's. tailoring
C. Sterman, grocer
H. Paul, dry goods
Douglas & Hooper, Post Office and dry goods
C Welbanks, grocery
Chas. Stone, grocery, billiard and pool room
Robert R Hope, Hope Hotel
W. Sutton's house occupied by A. Knight
The Salvation Army barracks
W. Aikens, dwelling
Finkle's blacksmithing shop
J. Farrelly's three machine shops
D. Hooper's barns
J. Taylor's barns
W. McLennan, house, shed and barns
C. Frey's house and barns
Rathbun's sheds, filled with lumber
Station agent's house of the N. T & Q R R
Henry Finkle’s house occupied by Miss Finkle
dwelling house and sheds of M. Ryan
house occupied by Mr. Watts
residence, sheds and barns of Chas. Hill
Rathbun’s coal sheds
residence of Mr. Soles
residence of E.O. Lanfear
residence of Ezekiel McConville
and several others
In the matter of insurance, none, as far as could be learned, were insured. The Rathbun Company and the N. T. & Q R R may have had policies. The total loss it is impossible to yet estimate. One thing certain, it will be some time yet before the village is again as prosperous. When Newburg was left at eight o'clock watchmen had been posted around the village to prevent another fire occurring. At that hour the sky was clouded and there was intense darkness. As the hill was ascended, and the desolate place looked upon, it seemed as a common covered with small bonfires. The scene was a peculiar one, and suggested a camp of soldiers with signal fires lit.