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Remembering the St. Joseph's Fire of 1885

As reported by the Frederick The Daily News - March 20th, 1885

Destructive Fire

St. Joseph’s College at Emmitsburg in Flames

Fire Engines Dispatched from Frederick in Hagerstown.
The Flames Still Raging

A most destructive fire broke out before noon today in St. Joseph’s College, 1 mi. from the town, and at the present time the flames are still raging. The roof and walls of the new building have fallen in and the flames are extending to other parts of the structure. The fire companies at Frederick and Hagerstown had been telegraphed for. The fire is supposed to have originated in a kitchen or in one of the dormitories.

2:30 p.m. Fire engines from Baltimore have been telegraphed for. The flames have now destroyed two outer buildings and are spreading rapidly along the corridors to the main building.

5 p.m. The prospects are somewhat more favorable and it is held that the extension of the Flames to the main building have been averted. The damage done this far will exceed $12,000

The foundation of St. Joseph’s institution was laid in 1809 by Mrs. Euza Seton, who A school for young ladies in a plain dwelling with humble surroundings. She died in 1821 in her 47th year. In 1817 her work was put into more complete shape by a charter of incorporation of the present Academy from the Maryland Legislature. The present structure is one of the most splendid illustrations of the growth of the great institution from a small source. There are over 1100 members of the community belonging to St. Joseph’s.

The sisters have charge of hospitals, orphanages and schools throughout the states, and 110 mission houses or offshoots of institution. There have rarely been as many as 200 pupils in the College.

The last great fire and Emmitsburg was on June 16, 1863, two weeks before the battle of Gettysburg. It originated in the stables of Gunther & Beam and destroyed nearly half of the town, including the City Hotel.

At 2 p.m. the Independent Fire Company of the city and the Junior Hook and Ladder Truck were order to Emmitsburg and arranges for probably made with the Pennsylvania Railroad to send a special train conveying the firemen and their apparatus direct to Emmitsburg. The special started at 2:30 p.m.. A number well-known residents of the city travel on it.

March 21, 1885 Edition of the Frederick Daily News

The first report of the fire at St. Joseph’s appeared in the city and county in the Daily News of yesterday and it remains only to add details.

Just 15 minutes after Captain James McSherry received the petition for help from the faculty of the Institute the engine of the Independence Fire Company and hose carriage were at the depot of the Frederick and Pennsylvania railroad waiting for transportation to Emmitsburg. A few minutes later the hook and ladder truck of the Juniors and a reel from the United arrived and were soon loaded on the cars of a special train, consisting of one passenger, one gondola, and one boxcar, pulled by engine number 11. The train started out the depot at exactly 2:35 p.m. having on board the fire apparatus and about 60 firemen and 30 civilians. Several ladders were taken from the Junior truck, as the entire outfit of the engine was thought unnecessary. The scene at the depot at the starting of the train was a very lively one. Men boarded a moving train and crowded onto every quarter, eager to accompany the fire men and willing to lend their aid is doing the flames. The trip to Woodsboro, a distance of 11 mi. was made in 12 minutes

At Bruceville a Western Maryland Railroad engine was in waiting and the fire men and their apparatus were soon transferred to the rails of that road. At Rocky Ridge the train was run on the Emmitsburg Railroad and pulled through to Emmitsburg, reaching that place at 4:30 p.m.. A tramway was soon extemporized for the engine, by which the latter was unloaded from the car and the firemen soon had the steamer at St. Joseph’s College. Some delay was encountered as a result of the boiler freezing from exposure during the transportation to Emmitsburg, but in 15 minutes to streams of water were being thrown into the burning buildings.

An example of how position affects some men was shown by the action of the president of the Emmitsburg Water Company, Isaac Annan, who, sitting aside of the hydrant, refused the Independence the right of water. He proclaimed to the people that he was the president of the Emmitsburg Water Company and that not a drop of water should be used that his consent. After a consultation between Captain McSherry, Colonel Banghman, and the director of St. Joseph’s, the president reluctantly gave his permission to the fire Company and from that time on until 1 a.m. the Frederick firemen work like troopers. At the time of their arrival at St. Joseph’s the hose Company of Emmitsburg was doing grand work, but their efforts were of course unequal to the requirements. The Frederick boys arrived home at 3:30 a.m. having subdued the flames. All their apparatus was brought with them, with the exception of a quantity of leather hose belonging to the Independence which cannot be reeled.

Plan of the institution

The entire property at St. Joseph’s is valued at about $1 million. The damage done will amount to between 50 and 60 thousand dollars, partially covered by insurance. None of the inmates were injured nor were seriously alarmed by the work of the flames. A strong wind greatly interfered with the work of the hose streams, and the clothing of the firemen was drenched and frozen hard. The sisters served tea, sandwiches, and coffee to the men, and afterwards ordered supper for 125 from the Western Maryland Hotel.

The burning buildings were three stories high. The building in which the kitchen was located was 60 ft. by 60 ft. and the dormitory building 112 ft. by 51 ft. Only the walls are standing and appear ready to topple over. The other buildings are known as a Gothie building which is 80 ft. long with wings, the Academy Building which is 100 by 60 ft. with wings 75 by 60 ft; the entrance building, which is 143 by 160 ft, the school buildings which is 60 by 60 ft, and the church which is 120 by 50 ft.

Mother Euphemia has been the superior for over half a century. The excitement shocked her somewhat, and she had to retire to her room. Neither she nor her assistants could recollect the amount of insurance on the buildings nor the names of all the companies. The Perpetual Insurance Company of London, is said to be one of the companies. About one o’clock this morning the fire was out and volunteer fireman were preparing to leave.

It is understood that the properties are insured for $300,000 all of it in perpetual policies. Some of the policies date back more than 30 years. The managers have always been exceedingly careful in this regard. They began taking out perpetual policies 30 or 40 years ago, and as the property increased in value or other buildings were added, more insurance were secured until now the total is said to be certainly not less than $300,000 almost all of which is placed in Baltimore, but is widely distributed among the local companies nearly each one of them having insured a policy for larger or smaller amount. Among them are said to be the German Fire Insurance Company, $20,000; Baltimore Fire Insurance Company, $15,000, and Associated Fire Insurance Company of Baltimore, $5,000.

St. Joseph’s, before the fire, covered a space of more than an acre of ground with handsome buildings, of which there are about seven or eight, including a large and handsome church. A large new edition of building is in the course of construction.

Of the large main buildings at St. Joseph’s, one, a three-story edifice was built of brick and was 100 ft. long and 50 ft. wide. It was completed in 1826, while Sister Rose White, a Baltimore, was the Mother Superior.

In 1836, for a accommodation of those ladies who wished to become Sisters of Charity, a large brick edifice was built, 72 ft. long, 49 ft. wide and three stories high, connecting with the eastern extremity of the main building and running at right angles with it in a northern direction. Not long after its completion the building of the church was commenced. It is said the site for the church was that designated by Mother Seton 20 years before. The cornerstone of the church was laid in 1839, on March 19th, St. Joseph’s day, and in less than two years the elegant structure was ready for dedication.

In 1841 increasing prosperity of the school at St. Joseph’s rendered it necessary to provide additional room, and for this purpose a large building 57 by 69 ft. and three stories high was erected. It connected with the eastern extremity of the Academy, running at right angles with it in a southern direction. It is surmounted with the cupola and belvedere which commands one of the most extensive and delightful prospects that can greet the eye.

In 1845 and extensive building was constructed for the accommodation of the sisters and novices. It stands east and west, connecting Academy and the church; with lateral projections to the south, and closing on three sides a courtyard 70 ft. by 40 ft. in extent. This building is 232 ft. in developed length and 40 ft in width, and 2 stories high and a roomy attic, and built a brick and cut stone. It is after the conventional style of the 14th and 15 centuries, with embattled parapets, high pitched roof with dome surmounted by a belfry 30 ft. high.

During the administration of Mother Euphemia, who since 1866 has been the superior in charge of the institution, a number of improvements have been made, prominent among which is a large building, with manstard roof, and the belvedere, affording and extensive view of the country. It has all the modern conveniences of gas and steam. The interior of this building comprises a handsomely frescoed distribution halls and large and spacious parlors. It connects with the other parts of the Academy by wide and cheerful corridors and was planned and its constructions superintended by Rev. Francis Burlando.

Within the last 15 or 20 years the grounds around St. Joseph’s had been greatly improved, not only in the number and style of buildings erected, but also in the surroundings, which resemble a vast cultivated garden, relieved by number of devotional spots throughout the grounds and quite a number of beautiful chapels, among them one called "Our Lady of the Valley," another known as "Our Lady of the Field," a rustic chapel of St. Joseph, and a small chapel of "Our Lady of Lourdes." A large new building is in the course of construction on the site of what has been the old infirmary, and is already under roof.

I. S. Annan letter to the editor in response to the comments on his actions in the article above

Originally published in the Emmitsburg Chronicle, March 23, 1885

Mr. Editor:

My attention has been called to an editorial Of the Daily News of Frederick of last Saturday, in which the writer introduces my name in terms that are anything but respect for. Though I have not personally seen the article I desire to state the facts connected with my observations at the fire at St. Joseph’s House.

The gentlemen of the Frederick fire Company responded to the call of the Sisters of Charity, for assistance and arrived in the 4:00 o’clock p.m. train, when the fire had gotten under such control that every person considered impossible for it to extend to any other building, as only the few pieces of fallen timber were burning in the celler of the kitchen, and the fire was nearly extinguished in the basement of the refectory, on which the Emmitsburg firemen were playing with their hose, and if necessary could have brought another section to bear on the same fire.

It was given out that the Frederick firemen were anxious to do something after coming so far; that they would go down to the creek for water, to which I made no objection. But when I saw them connecting their engine to one of the plugs, and being posted as to our supply of water, felt sure that our reservoir would be entirely exhausted, and nearby to the north, there are entire village, any case of another fire we would be without any water.

Then being president and superintendent of the Emmitsburg Water Company, thought it my duty to know by what authority they were connecting with the plug, as I did not regard it necessary, and they did they took the responsibility upon themselves, and I left. After preceding 30 or 40 yd. from the plug a met Sisters Marianna and Rose and Col. Baughman. They seem to think there might be danger if the wind should increase or change, and they would like to have the engine work. I told the sisters they should go ahead, but still thought they had better save the water for any possible emergency, and that the movement was wasteful. I could yield to no one in the earnest purpose of saving and protecting the property of the Sisters.

Upon the alarm of fire I ran with a hose reel until completely exhausted, and after a very short pause returned to the town for my horse and was on the premises before the firemen’s work began, and remained until evening, without anything to eat or drink, and endeavored to make myself useful generally. Now if the editor of the News considers my course and assumption of authority, I have nothing more to say. Seeing a disposition among our firemen to find fault with the Frederick Fire Company as being there after the work was over, I made it my business, to go to our Captain, and have him advise the "boys" to be polite and civil to the Frederick gentlemen as it was very kind in response to the call for help so quickly.

Yours truly,

I. S. Annan

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