The Great Coudersport Fire
May 18, 1880


About 3:00 in the afternoon of a breezy Tuesday, May 18th, the normal weekday routines were shattered when fire was noticed in a small shed tucked between two stores on Second Street. According to the Potter County Journal reports, even though one of their reporters was just a short distance from the shed when the alarm was raised, by the time anyone was close enough to actually do anything it was too late - the shed was engulfed and the flames were spreading to the adjacent buildings. Even a hundred buckets would not save the buildings, which were almost touching each other.

The fire, whipped by winds, raced through the buildings on west side of the courthouse square, jumped to buildings on 2nd street and engulfed that block also. At one point, the courthouse came close to catching fire, but heroic efforts saved it. Men, women, and children carried water and worked to exhaustion wetting down homes and buildings that might be prevented from catching - such was the best of fire fighting efforts in their world of 1880. People raced flames to salvage goods from businesses. Salvaged items were piled in the streets and on the courthouse square - furniture, merchandise, ledger books, even safes - all dragged out and piled in an effort to save as much as possible. As it was, many of the piles of salvaged goods were too close to the inferno and burned in the streets.

By nightfall, Coudersport's exhausted citizens stared numbly at the entire business district leveled to the ground and smoldering. If they didn't have troubles enough, some of their numbers had spent their time looting the piles of goods for items that would be useful to them. The looting was serious enough that fifteen special constables were recruited to patrol the devastated area and protect the pitiful remnants that had survived the fire.

The next day showed the devastation in pitiless detail.

Looking South on Main Street.
Old Hickory in the center background

Third street and the Methodist Church
Looking northeast from 2nd and Northwest Streets

The entire block west of the Courthouse was gone. The entire block south of the Courthouse was gone. On the west side of Main Street, Glassmire's Hotel and the northern half of the block was gone. The May 20, 1880 edition of the Potter County Journal tells the story.

 

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