Just as Detroit’s future looked promising, a terrible disaster occurred — the Great Fire of 1805. Baker John Harvey was in his stable and he knocked ashes from his pipe. It was a hot, windy day at the river’s edge, and the wind blew the hot ashes into a pile of hay and fanned the flames until both the barn and the bakery were ablaze. The alarm sounded and Detroit’s only fire engine arrived. Towns- people formed bucket brigades, but they could not stop the brisk wind from spreading the fire.
Many citizens frantically gathered their animals, loaded up their most prized possessions, and fled through the gates of the town. In just six hours, by three o’clock, nothing was left where the houses once stood but a blanket of ashes, with black chimneys rising up through the smoke. Only Fort Lernoult, on the hill above the city, and one stone warehouse at the river was spared. A century of community growth was destroyed.
No lives were lost. Father Gabriel Richard writes Spearmus maliora; resurget cineribus – We hope for better days; it shall rise from its ashes – which becomes Detroit’s motto.
Some people moved across the river to Sandwich (Windsor), Ontario or to other nearby towns. But almost two thirds stayed nearby and helped rebuild the city.
Great Fire of 1805 from Encyclopedia of Detroit
Sanjana Malviya, This Week in Michigan History, Detroit Free Press, June 8, 2008, B.4.