The North Clarendon Fire

               The town of North Clarendon was a small, but busy place in the late nineteenth century. Oil discoveries in the area had caused the town to boom with business in the late 1880s. Wooden buildings, houses, stores, and hotels had been built swiftly during those years.

               On July 4th in 1887, the community of North Clarendon was the victim of an incredible disaster. Like other communities throughout the country, the streets were decorated for the Fourth of July, and the day was celebrated with picnics, parades, and fireworks. At about 9:30 PM, however, an alarm was sounded and it was soon discovered that there was a fire in the engine room of the town’s waterworks. Shortly afterwards, a fire was discovered at the Weaver House, a local hotel.

               North Clarendon had volunteer fire companies to protect the community in case of fire. Having marched proudly in the parade earlier in the day, North Clarendon’s volunteer fire companies rushed to the scene and attempted to put out the fires, but without success. Soon, other volunteer fire companies from Warren were called in, arriving on a special train.

               The fire, however, spread out of control, jumping from one wooden building to the next. People rushed to aid the firemen, or rescue items from their homes and businesses before they burned.

               By the time the fire was over, the town of North Clarendon was destroyed. One hundred fifty buildings burned, including every hotel, restaurant, and store in town. Only one person died, but ninety percent of the town had burned and over 1,000 people were left homeless.

               Communities near North Clarendon immediately sent assistance, and over $8,000 was raised to help rebuild the community. Homeless people were housed in tents sent in by the governor of Pennsylvania.

               It was never proved what caused the fires. Arson was suspected, and a man was brought to trial, but he was released for lack of evidence. North Clarendon suffered what all community members feared in the nineteenth century--total destruction by fire. When most houses and stores were built of wood and often built close together, a small fire in one building could quickly spread to others. At the same time, the water supply, needed to fight fires quickly, was often unreliable and sometimes nonexistent.


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society