It was a holiday and I had the day off. But when Herb Adams called and invited me to a ceremony he had planned, marking the 150th anniversary of Portland’s Great Fire, I couldn’t resist.
This is what I found out.
The Great Fire started on Commercial Street, possibly with the help of stray 4th of July fireworks, and made it’s way up from the waterfront, eventually consuming a third of the city in 1866. Up until that time, it was the worst urban fire in the nation’s history.
Herb said, the flames burned all the city newspapers, all the banks and many of the churches. It also left 10,000 people homeless.
The man who first raised the alarm was an African-American Civil War veteran named William Wilberforce Ruby. His descendant, Bob Greene, spoke at the brief ceremony, too.
Always aware of the appropriate level of pomp, Herb ended the doings with the ringing of the First Parish Church bells. They — the only church bells left in the city that rang out on that day, back then in 1866 — sounded the alarm with eight claps.
Then, I headed up Munjoy Hill to a cookout and to watch the fireworks on the Eastern Prom. No rocket-related blazes were reported.
See images of the great fire HERE.