New Book Commemorating the New York State Capitol and the Great Fire of 1911

Capitol Fire Book Cover

In the early morning hours of March 29, 1911, a fire broke out in the New York State Capitol at Albany.  By sunset, the entire Western portion of the building had sustained extensive structural damage.  Within lay the entire collection of the New York State Library, almost completely reduced to ashes.  Founded in 1818, this had been one of the finest research libraries in the country, home to innumerable manuscript and printed rarities. In a particularly bitter irony, the fire struck as the overcrowded library was four months away from moving into new, spacious quarters under construction across the street. Miraculously there was only one fatality, an elderly watchman, Samuel Abbott, whose body was not recovered for days. 

To commemorate the centennial of the fire, librarians Paul Mercer and Vicki Weiss of the New York State Library's Manuscripts and Special Collections have culled rare images and documents from the special collections of the modern New York State Library, which arose from the ashes of 1911. Their work culminated in a book: The New York State Capitol and the Great Fire of 1911 published on January 31, 2011 by Arcadia Publishing.  Included are recently discovered pictures documenting the construction of the Capitol, beginning in 1869.  Eyewitness accounts enliven these old photographs. Among them, the memoirs of one employee, Joseph Gavit—whose library career spanned 50 years—provide a personal and very human link to the past.

If you are interested in obtaining a copy of the book or for more information see:  All royalties from the book sales will go to the Friends of the New York State Library.

Last Updated: August 16, 2017