Old City Hall in Lewiston, from 1872 until its destruction in a January 1890 fire. Lewiston Public Library

When Lewiston City Hall caught fire on Jan. 7, 1890, flames leapt 200 feet in the air as the blaze turned the monumental structure into a pile of rubble in little more than an hour.

“It was a carnival of fire,” the Lewiston Evening Journal reported, “an enormous boiling furnace” so bright that it lit up City Park next door.

The Journal called it “the fiercest fire that ever burned in Lewiston,” destroying the city library, many municipal records, hundreds of prize chickens from across Maine that were on hand for a poultry show and much more.

The flames burned through an armory, a rum storehouse, a post office and a host of valuable and important items stored in “our noble city building,” as the Journal put it.

The structure had been erected after an 1870 fire wiped out a block that included the city’s first offices at the corner of Lisbon and Main streets.

The second building was located on the same site where City Hall is today, kitty-cornered from the DeWitt House, a fine hotel, and next door to City Park, which was later named for President John F. Kennedy.

Big crowds watched from adjoining streets as the city building burned, heading home only after its spires had fallen in and walls tumbled.

They went home “full of wonder at what they had seen, but with sad faces,” the Journal said.

“It is safe to say there were only four exultant hearts in the whole city,” the paper said.  Four prisoners who were in the basement lockup when the blaze began were freed by the city marshal “and told they needn’t come back.”

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