Maine Insane Asylum fire of 1850

The affair thrilled with horror the entire State when fire was discovered at 3:00 A.M. on that fateful morning. The hospital had just been built ten years prior to the fire and was crowded with patients. A new heating system had been installed the year before and was noted to be dangerous and defective.

The fire was discovered by an attendant in a flue pipe around the furnace. The attendant and Dr. Harlow attempted to extinguish the fire by pouring buckets of water on the fire but the flames spread rapidly in defiance of their efforts and they hastily ascended to the dormitories to arouse and rescue the patients who were threatened with suffocation by the dense smoke passing through the air flumes to all parts of the old wing.

The sleeping apartments were unlocked and the patients were aroused. Some were stupefied and bewildered, others were wild with excitement, and they were urged, driven and dragged into the new South Wing. The patients because of their condition and the confusion ran back to their rooms two and three times only to be rescued again. Many perished because of their continued returns to their rooms. Patients appeared in their windows visibly trapped as flames and smoke took over the wings. Many daring rescues were performed by ladders from the outside.

Messengers were sent throughout the City and Hallowell for help. The Bells rang of the alarm and the first fire engine Uncle Sam arrived from the grounds of the arsenal. The engine first pumped water from the cistern in front of the new wing, which did not last long. An attempt to hook up a hose to another well failed when the hose broke and another attempt at 10,000 gallons in the basement of the burning wing was not accessible because of the amount of fire. The flames spread unchecked for sometime.

The Deluge Engine at the time of the fire was not in working order and by the time the two engines from Hallowell arrived the flames were bursting out of the windows. The only recourse for water was the Kennebec and the engines were placed to provide a water relay was set up as the Tiger drafted from the river and pumped through 700’ of hose to the Lion also of Hallowell, which pumped through 600’of hose to the Uncle Sam. This was an unbelievable testament to the ability of these machines to pump 1300’ of hose at an incredible change in grade and still put a stream of water 100’ high onto the roof of theses buildings.