If you stay in Newburyport for any amount of time, it’s likely that you’ll hear about the Great Fire of 1811. Started by an arsonist, it quickly grew out of control and spread across the town, destroying over 250 buildings. The town was one of the wealthiest in the country, but the damages and loss of property caused by the Newburyport fire was staggering—over one million dollars of damages in those days. Even though this reduced the city’s worth to “average,” the upcoming War of 1812 would nearly drive the city to bankruptcy as it struggled to rebuild and withstand the economic hardship of war. Fortunately for the residents and visitors of Newburyport, the town was able to rebuild and grow into a stronger city than ever before.
Because of its harrowing experience with fire, Newburyport has placed a special emphasis on fire protection and now boasts an impressive number of fire resistant buildings and structures. The city has also invested heavily in fire safety, including an active and healthy fire department which employs the city’s bravest and finest to protect the citizens against natural and manmade disasters. The Newburyport Fire Department participates in many local events by lending its firefighters and fire trucks for safety education and demonstrations. In 2011, on the 200th anniversary of the Great Fire of 1811, the city hosted a nine day event to celebrate how Newburyport “rose from the ashes” to become the historically and culturally rich place it is today. Newburyport firefighters were on hand with their modern day fire truck on display to teach attendees how firefighting has evolved throughout the past two centuries.
If you are interested in learning more about how firefighting has been shaped by the events in Newburyport, and how firefighting has changed over the years, the best place to start is the Old Newbury Fire Museum across from the town hall. This museum has hosted exhibitions on historic fire houses and fire trucks, as well as firefighting memorabilia across the decades. From helmets to hoses, horns to hand-tubs, this museum has seen it all. Trace the evolution of the modern day fire truck back to man powered fire engines, and learn how the Newburyport fire affected the growth of the city.
Although Newburyport has taken great precautions to protect the city against fire damage, there is always the potential for danger. If you witness any of the warning signs of fire, call and report the incident right away to the proper authorities. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to preserving the historic beauty and livelihood of our community.