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New Castle, Delaware
Community History and Archaeology Program (nc-chap.org)

"A View of The Town of New Castle From The River Delaware, -- Taken the 4th July 1797 -- By Ives le Blanc" Courtesy G. & E. Hargraves

FIRE OF 1824 AND BUILDINGS ERECTED AFTER IT

Robert Frank Brown, Front Street, New Castle DE: Architecture and Building Practices, Chapter 5; 1961, ,U. Delaware Library

At three on Monday afternoon, April 26, 1824, a fire broke out in the stable or store‑room (the Accounts vary) belonging to James Riddle, a merchant in New Castle since 1798. It quickly spread from Bank Lot 1, on which the mercantile buildings were located, to his adjoining house, on Bank Lot 2. According to one newspaper account,

"...the wind was blowing fresh from the south which sent the flames northward to Jeremiah Bowman's lumberyard and from there continued north, consuming the remaining houses, stores, and the Union Line Hotel before being stopped by the 120 feet wide vacant lot opposite the mansion of George Read".

Thus all the buildings on the water or bank side of Front Street were destroyed or badly damaged. The fire crossed the street midway on its northward course along the east side of Front Street and worked its way north on the west side, beginning at the house and store of Samuel Cooper (Couper), built in 1824 by his father Dr. James Couper (the present #14 The Strand). The rest of the progress of the fire can be traced from the detailed account which appeared soon afterward in a Wilmington newspaper.

thence to two houses adjoining, one of which was occupied as a bakery; from thence it communicated to Mr. [Thomas] Janvier’s large dwelling [Lot 5], thence to a small house belonging to the Steam Boat Company [Lot 5]; thence to Mr. Saxton’s [Richard Sexton] brick dwelling and stables [Lot 6], thence to a brick dwelling, and the stores and dwelling of Mr. Raynow [Lot 6], thence to Mr. M’Cullough’s [James McCullough] dwellinghouse [Lot 7], thence to a brick house occupied as a dwelling and dry goods store [lot 7] also owned by McCullough ...

At this point the account becomes confusing, because the names of two property owners, one deceased, are confused:

.. thence to the large dwelling house of Geo. Reed [sic] Jr Esq. with back building &c. and here happily the progress of the flames were arrested, between 6 and 7 o'clock in the evening, by Mr. Geo Reed [sic] senior's large house, the roof of which being kept extremely wet by a hose which was constantly playing, prevented the fire from going farther ...

The reporter confuses, for us at least, the home bought by George Read, Sr., in 1798 (Lot 8) with the mansion built by his son, George 'Read, Jr., on Lot 9. Both were then owned by George Read, Jr., and hence both could have been known properly as his dwellings. Since the fire was going north, and is not described as leaping over a building before it was stopped by a wet roof, and since the account states that one Read house was reached by the flames before the other halted the fire, we can conclude that the house of George Read, Sr., the Old Read House, now owned by his son, was burned and that the fire was stopped by George Read, Jr.'s house, the present Read House. This explanation seems to be confirmed by a letter of thanks to the Wilmington fire companies published in a Wilmington newspaper by Read.

By this fire over one-half the buildings along Front Street between Delaware and Harmony Streets were burned or had to be rebuilt. On the east side, all the buildings from Bank Lot 1 to Bank Lot 7 were destroyed or badly damaged. On the west side portions of an older