A Brief History of the Mount Ida Neighborhood - Fire

 In 1820 the first major fire of the century consumed nearly ninety buildings along River and First Streets, causing the City Council to ban all public smoking—even in outhouses—under “the penalty of one dollar.”*  A smaller blaze destroyed every building on River Street between Congress and Ferry in May of 1848.  In August of 1854 the largest conflagration to date claimed in excess of 200 downtown buildings and left more than 300 families homeless.  Even those who could afford to rebuild their frame homes were not permitted to do so, as the city attempted to prevent another major fire by closely regulating the erection of wooden structures.**  Rebuilding was normally to be done in stone or brick—a far more expensive proposition that was outside the budget of poorer families.  As a result of these strictures, some residents subsequently relocated outside the central districts.  In 1862 the most devastating fire in Troy’s history destroyed 507 homes and 75 acres in downtown Troy, rendering more than 600 families homeless. 

Images of the great conflagration clearly indicate that the majority of the lost homes were wood, as free-standing chimneys littered the scorched landscape.    

[Figure 11] Why did so many of the displaced find their way to Mount Ida?  Unlike every other region of the city proper, the Fifth Ward allowed the construction of wood-framed buildings to go almost unchecked through 1875, thus providing the most affordable housing stock in the entire city.  By 1855 there were 184 wooden and only 55 brick buildings east of Thirteenth Street.  By the end of the Civil War there were 245 wood-framed and 114 brick edifices in the same area.  Remarkably, by 1875 there were 449 wood-framed and 166 brick structures—a ratio approaching three-to-one.  This was by far the highest percentage of non-masonry buildings within any ward of Troy. 

* Weise, The City of Troy and Its Vicinity, 140.

** Weise, The Firemen and Fire Departments of Troy, NY (Albany: Weed-Parsons, 1895), 48-49.

 

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