, Newburyport, MA

Local News

September 9, 2013

Today marks 100th anniversary of devastating Salisbury Beach fire

SALISBURY BEACH — One hundred years ago today, the face of Salisbury Beach changed forever.

The most devastating fire the beach has ever seen destroyed over 125 buildings, including all of the high-valued business structures at the center. In the end, water alone was no longer capable of stopping the out-of-control fire. Firefighters turned to dynamite to destroy buildings and create a fire break that finally halted the destruction.

Salisbury Beach at the time was a wildly popular amusement and vacation destination, populated by several hotels and hundreds of cottages. The beachfront was a major attraction for immigrants and workers in the Merrimack Valley, who used a thriving trolley service to get them to the beach.

The fire started shortly before 4 in afternoon as a result of a kerosene lamp being overturned and igniting chemicals in the photography studio of Arthur Williams at the rear of the Cushing Hotel located on the north side of what is now called Broadway. Fanned by a northeast wind, the fire quickly spread to the 100-room, three-story Cushing. Sparks from the blazing hotel soon ignited several two- and three-story structures across the street. These buildings housed a dance hall, bowling alley, a roller skating rink, a hotel and the “Spiral Thriller” roller coaster.

Because of a poor water supply system and the lack of an adequately organized and equipped fire department, the fire continued south for well over a quarter of a mile, consuming everything in its path. Several fine oceanfront hotels were lost. The Bijou Theater, all of the restaurants, mostly all of the amusements, the only drugstore and several small grocery stores fell victims to the flames, as did numerous concession stands and over 100 cottages.

Calls for assistance were sent out to Newburyport, Haverhill and Portsmouth. Newburyport responded with a steam engine pulled by four horses and a horse-drawn hose wagon. Coast Guard lifesaving crews stationed at Salisbury Beach and Newburyport were also credited with providing crucial aid to the firefighting efforts.

Text Only | Photo Reprints

Port Pics
AP Video
Johnson: Six Arrests, No Tear Gas in Ferguson Raw: Rescue, Relief Efforts at Japan Landslide Cadavers, a Teen, and a Medical School Dream Raw: Woman Escorted From Ferguson Protests California Drought Stings Honeybees, Beekeepers Officer Who Pointed Gun at Protesters Suspended Holder Hopes to Bring Calm to Ferguson Today in History August 21 Holder Pledges Top Investigators for Ferguson US Mission to Rescue Hostages in Syria Failed Manfred, Torre and MLB Take Ice Bucket Challenge Bank of America Reaches Record $17B Settlement Holder Reassures Ferguson Community With Visit GlobalPost CEO Remembers Foley As a Brave Man Seth Meyers Rolls Out Emmy Red Carpet Obama: World Is Appalled by Murder of Journalist Israel, Militants Trade Fire After Talks Fail Pres. George W. Bush Takes Ice Bucket Challenge Pierce Brosnan's Call to Join the Expendables Changes Coming to No-Fly List
Special Features