The Capitol Fire of March 29, 1911

In the early morning hours of March 29, 1911, a fire broke out in the New York State Capitol at Albany. By sunset, the vast collection of the New York State Library, then housed in the Capitol, had been reduced to ashes.

Black-and-white photo of the NYS Capitol building surrounded by smoke on the night of the fire.
The Capitol Building, ablaze on March 29, 1911.

Sepia-toned photo of the Capital Building, with streams of water directed at it and a thick column of smoke on the right-hand side.
The Capitol Building on the morning after the great blaze.
Some of the damage after the fire.
Part of the Library, in ruins after the fire.



Damage to Library Collections

Much of the New York State Library's collections were lost in the 1911 fire. Below are some examples of documents from the NYS Library collections that survived the fire, though with damage.

17th century letter, in Dutch, showing extensive fire damage.
A letter, in Dutch, from the Van Rensselaer Manor Papers collection. Many items in this collection were damaged in the fire.
Photo of the Constitution of the Fire Department for the City of New York, with the edges burned from the Capitol fire.
The original 1793 Constitution of the New York City Fire Department, with burned edges from the fire.

A document from the Library's collection that was damaged in the fire.
Another document, showing both water and fire damage.



Book: The New York State Capitol and the Great Fire of 1911

Many more images from the 1911 fire can be found in the book The New York State Capitol and the Great Fire of 1911 (Arcadia Press, 2011), which includes rare images and documents from the special collections of the modern library that arose from the ruins of the 1911 fire.

Coauthors Paul Mercer and Vicki Weiss, both of the New York State Library, published this book in 2011 to commemorate the centennial of the fire.

7th Floor Exhibit (March - April 2011)

Black-and-white photo of the New York State Capitol building, with smoke pouring out of the upper left side, during the 1911 fire.

During March and April of 2011, the Library commemorated the Capitol Fire centennial with an exhibit on the public floor that featured rare original documents and photographs from the Manuscripts and Special Collections of the Library, including views of the fire and its aftermath, memoirs by library staff, fire-charred books and documents, and other materials illustrating the virtual destruction of the library in 1911, and the salvage and recovery efforts that followed.

Among the rarest items on display was a book acquired by the Library in 1819 — its second year of existence — featuring a bookplate personally signed by the first State Librarian, John Cook. Because it was on loan at the time of the fire, it escaped the flames, and was finally returned to the collection — in 1967!

From March 19 through June 18, 2011, there was also a Capitol Fire exhibit in the lobby of the New York State Museum.

Last Updated: March 30, 2012