Old-timers at The News & Observer remember or remember hearing about the fire of 1980.
But there were other fires in the paper’s history, one of the earliest being one hundred years ago today. As the city entertained crowds for the Carolina League’s opening day baseball game between the Raleigh Capitals and the Durham Bulls, flames were starting in the nearly-deserted newspaper plant, which had stood on West Martin Street since 1907.
Fire that burst upon the city while it was in festive mood yesterday, totally wrecked the News and Observer’s splendid plant and caused its owner, Secretary Josephus Daniels, of the Navy, the loss of more than $75,000.
The mystery of its origin has not been cleared and in the absence of any evidence stronger, the people on the paper have accepted the theory that it began in the basement and shot up the elevator shaft. Along with the cities of Raleigh and Durham, the force had deserted the building and the blaze broke out with ungovernable fury about 6 o’clock as the night shift was preparing to come on.
The alarm was given but the fire had taken the top floor. In a moment the smoke boiled from a score of windows and the blaze had wrapped the six linotypes in a white heat. The firemen did their best with a feeble pressure and a stream that fell with woeful weakness upon the fiercest of flames. The men shifted their positions and braved a glare that literally made their clothes smoke, but the water was no match for the fire and in fifteen minutes the employees of the paper had given up hope. ...
The march of the blaze was undisturbed until it took the floor above. When the alarm was given there was nobody in the building except the devil, the janitor and the Associated Press operator who heard the first roar of the flames. The seasoned timbers above took fire and in a moment the cracking of glass was heard all about. It seems no idle speculation to say what might have been with full streams upon the floor above. The water company must know at last how well Providence has cared for a foolish people.
The disaster overtook the people when they were least able to resist it. The fire could not have chosen a better time for havoc complete. A baseball game of keenest rivalry between ancient foes had set the stage, and the streets were absolutely deserted. The fire companies came into action about the time of the return from the grounds and ten thousand people must have stood and watched the passing of the plant....
It was a spectacular blaze despite the hour of the outbreak. There were fully 1,000 people from Durham who came into the boiling smoke as they returned from the game. For a moment or two it looked as if the firemen might fight on equal terms, the two gasoline trucks had come up reenforced by the horse hose wagons. All streams were put on and plied where the fire was fiercest. But there never was a second when the blaze did not have the advantage, when the water did not appear to be oil feeding the wasting timbers within. -- The N&O 4/25/1913
Editors wasted no time in laying blame at the inadequacies of the waterworks company, saying, “The Wake Waterworks company has again demonstrated to the people of the city its absolute worthlessness and inefficiency when its services are in the greatest demand. By its own acts it writes above its signature: “Ichabod.” In its own scales it has been weighed and found wanting.”
The newspaper was able to continue publishing without interruption thanks to the printing plant of The Raleigh Times.
The loss to the paper is a great one, not alone in the money sense, but in the destruction of valuable records memoranda, files, newspaper cuts, and the great variety of acquisitions of matter of a valuable nature to a daily paper. The battery of six linotypes are nothing but twisted metal, the sterotyping department is but a memory, the case type and forms and all parts of the mechanical department except the great Hoe four decker color press in the basement section, injured by heat and water, are destroyed.
But we "thank God and take courage," for the best asset of The News and Observer remains. That is its thousands of friends and patrons throughout the State. From its ashes it looks with confidence to them, feeling secure in their friendship for the "Old Reliable." The equipment has gone. That will be replaced with dispatch. Many of its valuable possessions are gone. But the people of North Carolina, whom it has tried to serve in season and out of season are still here, and this paper knows that they will rally to it in increasing number as it faces this greatest disaster in its history. -- The N&O 4/25/1913