In our continuing series on deserving candidates for a historical marker, we take a look at a fatal fire that struck the lower part of King Street on November 11, 1855. There is a marker inside City Hall for firemen who have given their life in the line of duty. The names of the seven firemen who perished in this fire are included on this marker.
The fire broke out around midnight on the third floor of James T. Dowell’s china and glassware store at 215-217 King Street. Around 4 a.m. on Sunday morning, the west wall collapsed. The seven firemen who perished were members of the Star Fire Company.
Fires had swept across the city before, including one in 1827 that destroyed more than 50 homes and business south of King and east of Royal. None, however, took such a costly toll as this one.
The Alexandria Gazette as well as The Evening Star in Washington covered the event.
Profound grief reigned over this city. The calamity was so sudden and severe, that it seemed as if the citizens could scarcely realize its horrors. Business stopped its wheels - and the most careless were brought to reflect seriously on such a melancholy event.
The seven men were George Plain, Robert I. Taylor, John A. Roach, James W. Keene, William S. Evans, J. Carson Green, David Appich. Initial reports said that John Dogan, “a colored man,” also perished but, the Gazette later reported this as being reported in error. Dogan was buried in the ruins but escaped serious injury. Several citizens were “quite severely wounded.” Arson was suspected.
The Virginia Fire News notes this was the largest "Line of Duty loss" in Virginia history.
An obelisk memorial was erected at Ivy Hill in 1970 for the seven fallen firemen. Circled by a fountain, one sees it as they enter the cemetery on King Street. On the 30th anniversary in 2000, the circle was completely re-landscaped and three new poles with custom-made flags were added to the Circle of Honor.
One can fully understand the reluctance to erect a marker for a fire at any one particular place of business. The intention, however, is a good one. We commemorate buildings, events and prominent historical figures, and we should also, in a fully visible manner, remember Alexandrians such as these seven firemen who gave their last full measure in service to their fellow citizens.