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.
The Capitol Building, ablaze on March 29, 1911.
Part of the Library, in ruins after the fire.
The Capitol Building on the morning after the great blaze.
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.
A letter, in Dutch, from the Van Rensselaer Manor Papers collection. Many items in this collection were damaged in the fire.
The original 1793 Constitution of the New York City Fire Department, with burned edges from the fire.
Another document, showing both water and fire damage.
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.
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 Memoirs of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 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.