Windsor, MI Fire, Apr 1849


In 1849, while Mr. Duncan was chief engineer of the Volunteer Fire Department, a fire broke out in Windsor on the night of April 6, and as far as appearances from this side indicated, the City of Windsor was in danger of being wiped out by fire. Dongall’s large brick store on the west side of Ferry Street and abutting on the river, was a mass of flames and a high wind was prevailing. After a delay of an hour and a half, owing to the absence of the ferry boat, Duncan was enabled to send only one engine (No. 5) across, and that was by a small steam boat called the Hastings, that he happened to see make a landing at the foot of Shelby Street. The reason why only one engine was sent across the river was owing to the smallness of the Hastings. Duncan, however, at the timely suggestion of Mr. John Owen, took over at the same time 250 feet additional of hose, which addition saved the City of Windsor many, many thousands of dollars.

When Chief Duncan and his men reached the scene nearly an acre of territory had been burned, and the northwest wind was sending a mass of cinders and flame directly towards the large frame hotel known as the Windsor Castle, which stood directly opposite the site of the present Crawford House.
About two hours and a half after the landing of the boat, the Detroit firemen being augmented in the meantime, by the arrival of Engine Company No. 2, on board the steamer Ariel, the flames were subdued, the fire completely checked. It was a fierce, stubborn fight, and the firemen that particularly distinguished themselves in connection with Chief Duncan, as hoseman and pipeman were: Andrew Young, A. P. Copeland, Joseph P. Rhodes, William Hopkins and J. P. Rosenburg. For reasons unexplained the ferry boats did not visit Detroit that night.

LOSS WAS $30,000.

Following is a list of the buildings that were destroyed: Dougall’s dry goods store, two warehouses, Hunt’s hardware store, and packing house, customs office. a restaurant, the Queen’s Hotel, brick school house and dwelling, Mr. Richard’s bakery and dwelling, four large frame barns (and four horses) besides several small outbuildings. The total loss was $30,000. Had it not been for the Detroit firemen the loss would, at least, have been double the amount.

The Windsor people entertained the Detroit firemen right royally, “gave them the best they had in the shop,” of course, and the day following called a public meeting of citizens which was held at the Windsor Castle Hotel, at which meeting an address of thanks was unanimously adopted to Wm. Duncan, chief engineer of the fire department of the city of Detroit, and the two fire companies under his command on the occasion. They also voted a silver trumpet to the volunteer firemen of Detroit. The trumpet was procured. properly inscribed and on July 2, 1849, the same was presented to Mr. Duncan, as chief engineer of the volunteer fire department of the City of Detroit.

The firemen were drawn up in a hollow square at the foot of Woodward Avenue, and received the committee on presentation, consisting of Colonel Arthur Rankin, chairman; John McEwan, Esq., sheriff; P. E. Verhoeff, merchant; H. Kennedy and J. McCrae, also merchants, preceded by the German band, playing “God Save the Queen,” and escorted by the mayor, chief engineer and officers and member of the fire department.

Early days in Detroit : papers, 1906, by Friend Palmer, pages 354-355