New York, NY Large Pier Destroyed By Flames, Dec 1889

A BIG PIER IN FLAMES.

AT LEAST FOUR LIVES LOST IN A FIRE ON THE NEW YORK WATER FRONT.

MANY LONGSHOREMEN INJURED.

SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION CAUSES THE DESTRUCTION OF A NATIONAL LINE DOCK - THE FIRE BOATS GET IN THEIR WORK.

New York, Dec. 7. - Fire broke out this evening on pier 49 North River End, occupied by the National Line Steamship Company and soon gained great headway. The steamer Holland, which arrived this morning, was docked at the pier, and a gang of men started to clear the pier, so as to make ready for the steamship's cargo.
White they were thus working, Foreman JOHN DUNN discovered fire among a number of bales of cotton, near the end of the pier. About 25 men were at work near the spot. Some remained to assist in putting out the flames, the others fleeing to the street. So fiercely did the flames rage that the steamer had to be towed away from the docks for safety, and the men who stayed on the pier to fight them were compelled at length to flee for their lives, and several of them were cut off and perished, the others being badly burned before reaching the street.
The pier was entirely destroyed together with the pay roll and money of the employees. The pier was 600 feet long and cost $230,000 to build.
The fire was extinguished at 3:15 o'clock. Four dead bodies were found at the end of the pier in a loft.
The victims are:
JOHN WHALEN, dock carpenter.
JAMES BARRY, watchman.
RICHARD JOHNSON, colored.
An unknown colored man.
The searching party is still at work, as it is feared that others may have been burned to death. There are still nine men missing, but it is hoped that the majority escaped.
The pier was a double-decker, with an open loft. There was little freight up stairs when the conflagration occurred. There were altogether 200 men on the pier when the outbreak was discovered, and preparation for the unloading of the Holland began. The flames were discovered by an elevator boy. He gave an alarm, which set the men above and below on the alert. Those below, with few exceptions, rushed for their lives. Those who remained gave all the assistance they could. Their efforts were futile. A couple of these men, finding themselves hemmed in by flames escaped by springing overhead and swimming into the slip. JAMES W. JEFFERSON, who was in the loft, saved himself by sliding down the elevator rope. JAMES BARRY was one of the men who remained to try to put out the fire, and when his body was found the empty extinguisher was still strapped to his back. The Holland was taken to the Inman Dock in Jersey City. She suffered no damage.
Before the firemen had conquered, the flames four-fifth of the pier had caved in, carrying to destruction with it the loft overhead. The loss is $75,000 on the pier and $50,000 on the cotton and other freight.
Twelve engines, seven fire boats and several tugs threw streams on the flames. Thousands of feet of lumber were piled on the adjoining pier which ran to the Cunard Pier. The lumber was with great difficulty prevented from burning.
The fire broke out like a flash mysteriously; apparently by spontaneous combustion, or explosion of the cotton bales.
The fire was witnessed by an immense crowd. Wives and children were there wringing their hands for their fathers and husbands, who were perhaps endangered or lost. A terrible scene was created when several men came running from the pier screaming with their hands before their faces, which were burned and blackened. When JAMES BARRY'S body was recovered, his wife, who was present, became almost frenzied with grief. It is said that a score of men in all were more or less injured.

Syracuse Standard New York 1889-12-08