Narrative card: Introduction to Acres of Ashes


Narrative card: Introduction to Acres of Ashes


It began on a hot windy day at lunchtime on May 3, 1901 from a small spark landing in drying moss. The actual source of the sparks that started the Great Fire are attributed to a variety of culprits. Some say it was the cooking stove the workers were using during their lunch, while others believe it was from a boiler explosion at a nearby candle factory. No matter the true cause, all histories agree the fire originated at the Cleveland Fibre Factory which manufactured mattresses stuffed with Spanish moss.

Employees of the Cleveland Fibre Factory attempted to extinguish the flames and thought they succeeded but the fire was quickly fanned by a northwest wind. The strong winds picked up flaming pieces of moss and embers from the factory and carried them to other structures where they quickly ignited.

The fire spread throughout downtown Jacksonville, causing panic among the evacuating residents. Several incidents were described of evacuees attempting to save personal possessions including large pieces of furniture and even pianos. Many of these items were abandoned in the streets as the fire quickly approached, causing difficulties in evacuating residents and disrupted the flow of traffic out of the city.

The fire lasted almost eight hours and was finally under control after 8:00pm that night. The glow of the fire could be seen as far north as Savannah and was described by witnesses in South Florida. In addition to the already windy conditions, the intense heat of the fire generated localized weather events, including tornados and waterspouts.

The aftermath of the literal firestorm was immediately visible. The damage was extensive spreading over 150 city blocks containing approximately 2,400 structures destroyed by the fire. 10,000 city residents were left homeless and several died.

The Great Fire of 1901 changed the Jacksonville skyline 120 years ago this year.


Thomas G. Carpenter Library Special Collections


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Thomas G. Carpenter Library Special Collections, “Narrative card: Introduction to Acres of Ashes,” Thomas G. Carpenter Library Digital Exhibits, accessed November 28, 2021,