State Capitol Fire of 1911, Jefferson City
Posted by: Groundspeak Regular Member Carpe Diem59
N 38° 34.778 W 092° 10.413
15S E 571985 N 4270453
Quick Description: Lightning struck the Missouri State Capitol dome on Feb.5,1911 at 6:15 pm. The present capitol was rebuilt on the site. The 100th anniversary of the fire will be noted in February 2011.
Location: Missouri, United States
Date Posted: 1/12/2011 11:04:56 AM
Waymark Code: WMAGD5
Views: 15

Long Description:
Lining the corridor walls of the basement of the present capitol building near Conference Room 3, are some fine black-and-white photos of the great capitol fire of 1911. Here you can see its destructive power that local and regional firefighters were unable to control.

The best way to see the photo collection is to enter from the West
Main Street entrance to the Capitol.(See Waymark coordinates) You enter on the basement level. The corridor for conference room 3 is to your left. Then take a right. (Note: they sometimes take them down to protect them from hall maintenance activities)

It was an unusually warm Sunday evening on February 5,1911 when lightning struck the Missouri State Capitol that had been built in 1840 and renovated in 1887-88. One of the eyewitnesses to history was Monsignor Joseph Selinger who was just leaving St. Mary's hospital and saw the lightning strick:
"One flash struck the four armed electric wires(lightning rod) on the lantern of the dome..."

After the rain let up, he walked to his St Peter's Catholic Church near the burning capitol. Luckly that evening the winds were light and no sparks from the capitol fire affected his parish.

The wooden supporting timbers in the dome caught fire as the current from the lightning strick traveled down old electrical wires.

The resulting fire was like a stove fire since the metal that sheathed the dome focused and contained the fire. A tremendous updraft aided in the combustion.

It had been declared an uninsurable firetrap. Firefighters were helpless with low water pressure and ladders that couldn't handle the heights where the fire raged. It had all the ingredients of "A Perfect Storm" that came together that evening.

In the resulting fire, priceless works of art like George Caleb Bingham's portraits of President Thomas Jefferson and statesman Henry Clay were lost in the fire.

I learned from editorial cartoonist and art director of the Jefferson City News Tribune, Jim Dyke, that the 100th anniversary of Jefferson City's great fire of 1911 was approaching. Furthermore,he had some big
plans to mark the occasion, including the launch of his new oil
painting of 'Capitol on Fire' in February 2011. He has plans for a commemoration month at his Cottonstone Gallery on High Street.

Today, he gave me a sneak peek of a photo of his still drying oil
painting. It is awesome! So,when he suggested I submit a WAYMARK
on the city's great fire, I was excited to do just that.

Check out Jim's Cottonstone Gallery website. (See the Waymark's color gallery photo for a list the February 2011 events). He should be posting a photo of his new oil painting on that website soon.

The WAYMARK photo gallery is thus photos I took today. I don't believe that there is a plaque on the capitol grounds today. Perhaps
there will be after the 100th anniversary and the actions planned for February 2011 occur. I have also included an aerial view of the gem of Missouri, our capitol building, that rose from the ashes of the old capitol.

My late mother remembered vividly the evening sky aglow that night when the capitol burned. She observed it from her father's farm in the Frog Hollow bottoms near today's JCMG medical complex on Stadium Boulevard. Her father had been involved in the 1887 renovation to the old capitol, and would also work on the construction of the new capitol.

Finally, check out the link shown for the NY Times account of that fateful day in February 1911.

A good local book I found in our public library is "The Day the Capitol Burned" by Joseph S. Summers published in 1986.
Type of Structure: Public building

Fire Date: 2/5/1911

Structure status: Gutted building

Cause of Fire:
Lightning struck the capitol dome at 6:15 pm on February 5, 1911.


Documentation of the fire: [Web Link]

Other: Not listed

Construction Date: Not listed

Visit Instructions:
Give a narrative of your experience. Did you learn anything after reading about the fire in the waymark? Photos are always welcome too. Please no virtual visits.
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