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1909 Orange Fire

On Tuesday, July 20, 1909, downtown Orange was again visited by a disastrous conflagration that burned a significant section of Chapman (a.k.a. Wall) Street and Railroad Avenue. This area of downtown was not yet fully recovered from the catastrophic fire that struck East Main Street and Railroad Avenue nine months before on November 8, 1908.

The 1909 fire began in Mr. E.C. Cook’s blacksmith shop on the west side of Chapman Street near its corner with Church Street and was driven by strong winds. According to a detailed report in the July 26th edition of Charlottesville’s Daily Progress and other regional newspapers, a total of twenty buildings were destroyed by this fire.

Businesses consumed by the blaze were: a 2-story warehouse; four grocery stores; a wagon repair shop; two blacksmith shops; a tin shop; a painting and repair shop; a harness shop; a shoe shop; W.S. Grymes large livery stable; Col. C.B. Mattox’s Piedmont Hotel (a.k.a. the Hotel Morris) on the south side of Church Street; the Southern and C&O Railroad’s passenger depot on Railroad Avenue near Church Street; a portion of the railroad freight depot northeast of the intersection of the railroad tracks and Church Street; two pool halls; two (soft drink) saloons; the 2-story Star Building which contained the Orange Review printing office, the Piedmont Virginian printing office and a plumbing shop; a large boarding house; a Black operated barber shop; a Black operated meat market; a restaurant; the Orange Undertaking Company; three apartments; and a lumber/carpenter shop.

The fire was finally subdued by a citizens’ bucket brigade and a fire engine brought in on a railroad flatcar. Eventually a fire fighting crew was dispatched from Charlottesville, but they were called off before reaching Orange, as the fire had been brought under control by the townspeople. Even though the fire was highly destructive and caused from $75,000-$100,000 in damage to property ($2.36 million-$3.15 million in today’s dollars), no lives were lost in the inferno.


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