The Jacob Thompson’s Livery Stable Fire (4/9/1883)

Tragedy struck Westminster on April 9, 1883, when Jacob Thompson’s livery stable, which was on an alley behind West Main Street at the corner of John Street, went up in flames. Four men were playing cards in one of the carriages in the livery stable. They were using a candle, set on one of the seats, to provide light. A dispute arose when one man was accused of cheating. The accused grabbed the money and ran. The other men scuffled before taking off after the man with the money. In the scuffle, the candle was knocked over and started the fire. When caught, the men claimed they didn’t know the fire had started.

The alarm sounded about 11:30 p.m. By the time the firemen arrived, the stable was fully engulfed and a strong wind was spreading the flames to neighboring structures. At the time, Westminster had no city water supply and firemen fought the blaze with their chemical engine and water carried from nearby wells. The light of the fire was reportedly observable for a radius of 25 miles. The Gettysburg Compiler claimed a number of local residents saw the glow. The Hanover Spectator said “The light of the conflagration was so vivid and intense that it illuminated the whole of the Southwestern sky . . .”

By morning the fire had destroyed 16 houses, Grace Lutheran Church on Carroll Street, two manufactories, and eight stables. Seventeen families and thirteen businesses were left homeless. Total fire damage was estimated at $135,000. Two men who had been sleeping on the second floor of the stable where the fire began perished as did a number of horses and cattle.

To read the full account of the fire, go to the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America project at…/1883…/ed-1/seq-3/