Historian: Front Street no stranger to major fires

By Nikki Gaskins

GEORGETOWN, S.C. (WCIV) -- Georgetown is the third oldest city in South Carolina and with it comes a lot of rich history.{}{}

In light of Wednesday's fire on Front Street, many people may not know that it's happened several times before.

"This was the heart of town since day one," said Mary Boyd, a local historian.{}{}"We've been in business since 1729, so almost 300 years."

For Boyd, seeing part of her city's past destroyed by flames is heart wrenching, but she said history has a funny way of repeating itself.

She said the first recorded fire on Front Street happened in May of 1781 as the British were leaving Georgetown during the Revolutionary War.

"That evening, British sympathizers came in and set fire to the whole Front Street or Bay Street as it was called then," she said.{}{}"That fire spread to many houses around the town."

The way they put out fires then was much different from how it's done today.

"They only had a bucket brigade. Every homeowner would have a leather bucket with their name usually emblazoned on the side, and whenever the fire bell sounded, everybody in town was required to turn out and help fight the fire and bring their buckets with them," said Boyd.

Boyd says the buckets were typically left at the scene of the fire after it was over, and city officials would come around to collect the buckets and tally who was present during the fire.{}{}For those that were absent, they may have been forced to pay a fine.

Just one day after Wednesday's fire marked the 167the{}anniversary of another major fire along Front Street.{}{}On September 26, 1846 Boyd said another fire destroyed 18 buildings on the opposite side of the most recent fire.

As for a cause of those century-old fires, Boyd said they weren't investigated as they are today.

"These were mostly dry-good stores that had a lot of raw materials for fires to consume, so they spread rapidly," she said.{}{}"Most of the buildings shared that common wall."

She says another fire occurred approximately a half century after the Revolutionary War.

"On October 19, 1841 a fire consumed the entire east block of Front Street," she said.

Boyd said Front Street fell prey to another bad fire in 1854 but said if Georgetown's rich history has taught us anything so far, it's that Front Street always comes back bigger and better.

"It's been horrendous, but the rising from the ashes has always occurred," said Boyd.

There are no early photographs of these other major firesonly written account.{}{}Boyd said that's because photography didn't come into play until the time of the Civil War between the states.