The Worst US Disaster You've Never Heard About
And its Chattanooga connection...


Panorama from three glass plate negatives found in two Chattanooga collections.

Jacksonville's Great Fire of 1901 was the largest metropolitan fire in the American South and the third largest in US History. It began on May 3, 1901 with a spark from a kitchen fire at lunchtime which ignited piles of drying Spanish moss at a nearby mattress factory, then spread quickly to most of the downtown area. By 8:30 when the fire was brought under control it had covered 146 city blocks, destroyed 2,368 buildings including 23 churches and 10 hotels, left 10,000 people homeless and had killed seven residents.

The reconstruction boom that followed transformed the city into Florida’s major railroad and maritime gateway.

Chattanooga’s Connection

The center image in the panorama came from glass plates donated by John Wilson. In 2016 I identified the scenes as from the Jacksonville fire. John and I donated these plates to the Jacksonville Historical Society with the stipulation they could be shared here. Prints from the originals, 16 plates in all, are available from their website:

LINK: Sam Hall & John Wilson Donations at

The outer 2 images of the panorama came from the Times Free Press glass plate negative collection. The newspaper allowed them to be scanned & shared. Remarkably, two photos were a close match to the other – allowing a wide view in resolution never before seen.

Who was the photographer? It’s possible they worked for the newspaper and had moved to that area. Other glass plates in the collection show scenes from hurricane damage – likely one of many from the late 1800s and early 1900s.