On December 1, 1922, the Rowland Lumber Company in New Bern caught fire. While firefighters were still battling the Rowland blaze, a second fire started in a residence on Kilmarnock Street. It was reported that the flames “spread out like a giant fan” until they reached the Neuse River. Altogether about 1,000 homes, businesses and churches burned that day. Fire crews from Kinston and Washington, along with men from the Coast Guard Cutter Pamlico, assisted the fire fighters of New Bern. About 3,000 people, or a quarter of the population of New Bern at the time, were left homeless—and of those the majority of the families were African American.
Soldiers from Fort Bragg shipped eight freight cars of tents, cots and other supplies that were used by the Red Cross to set up a temporary tent city for the victims. Clothing and money were collected from people in nearby towns and even from the naval base in Norfolk, Va. One of the positive effects of the fire was the construction of a hospital for African Americans, Good Shepherd Hospital.
The New Bern Firemen’s Museum recounts the story of the 1922 fire that devastated the town.
For more about North Carolina’s history, arts and culture, visit Cultural Resources online. To receive these updates automatically each day subscribe by email using the box on the right and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.