Seattle burns down in the Great Fire on June 6, 1889.

  • By Walt Crowley
  • Posted 1/25/2003
  • Essay 5115

At about 2:30 p.m. on June 6, 1889, a pot of glue bursts into flames in Victor Clairmont's basement cabinet shop at the corner of Front (1st Avenue) and Madison streets. Efforts to contain the fire fail and it quickly engulfs the wood-frame building. Thanks to a dry spring and a brisk wind, the flames spread, and volunteer firefighters tap out the town's inadequate, privately owned watermains. By sunset, some 64 acres lie in smoldering ruins. This event is known as Seattle's Great Fire.

Mayor Robert Moran rallied Seattle's citizens to rebuild -- with brick and stone this time. The result survives today as Pioneer Square.

Many authoritative histories of Seattle erroneously ascribe the Great Fire's start to James McGough's paint shop on the floor above Clairmont's workshop at 1st and Madison, based on initial newspaper reports. McGough protested his innocence, and the Post-Intelligencer published a correction and detailed interview with John Back on June 21, 1889. Despite this, the error was repeated by historians and journalists for nearly a century until historian James Warren noticed the correction and, in his 1989 monograph The Day Seattle Burned, shifted the point of origin to Clairmont's shop.

Many Seattleites lost businesses. Among them were African American businesses, including an employment agency, a hotel, a restaurant, two barbershops, a boot and shoe making shop, and a real estate firm.


Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 21, 1889; James R. Warren, The Day Seattle Burned (Seattle: J.R. Warren, 1989); King County and Its Emerald City: Seattle (Seattle: American Historical Press, 1997); Esther Hall Mumford, Seattle's Black Victorians 1851-1901 (Seattle: Ananse Press, 1980, 33; Hugh McGough, "The Great Seattle Fire: Don't Blame Jimmie McGough," (

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