Hot Night in the Old City

The Great Fire of 1849

In 1849 St. Louis was geographically a much smaller town, the western limit being 11th Street. Its tight dimensions and wooden construction meant that the risk of fire was far greater than what it is today. And on the night of May 17, 1849, the steam ship The White Cloud caught fire while moored to the Cherry Street dock. Burning through her lines, The White Cloud drifted downriver, setting ablaze 22 other ships in the process, and then set fire to a house on Locust Street when it drifted back to the shore. The blaze quickly spread, engulfing much of downtown St. Louis throughout a long night. After deliberating on the best solution, the fire department decide to create a fire break — a plan achieved by hurling barrels of gunpowder into at-risk buildings and blowing them up, thereby depriving the fire of fuel. “FIRE!! St. Louis and the Great Fire of 1849,” a 20-minute long theatrical production at 2 p.m. today at the Missouri History Museum (Lindell Boulevard and DeBaliviere Avenue; 314-746-4599 or, explores the causes and effects of the conflagration. Admission is free.
Tuesdays. Starts: Jan. 13. Continues through Jan. 27, 2009
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