Newhall House Fire

M2007041119Newhall House Fire
c. mid 20th century

The six story Newhall House was constructed in 1857 as a hotel as well as an apartment building. It was made of Milwaukee brick but substructures were constructed out of wood. It changed owners many times over the years, never proving to be a very profitable establishment, but was an early and popular icon of the city of Milwaukee.

The Newhall had a history of close calls, catching fire two times before its fatal blaze. The first fire occured in February of 1863. It originated in the room of a newly married couple, and before it was extiguished, spread and destroyed nine rooms all together. The rooms were rebuilt for hotel purposes, but the fire caused a change in ownership. The second fire occured in January of 1880. A spark from a range stove ignited a wooden ventilation shaft, burning through four room on the third and fourth floors. Rather than rebuild the rooms an open courtyard was built in their place, and a second floor office utilized a skylight in its ceiling to enjoy the new addition. These near misses were never destructive enough to cause much panic, perhaps because no lives were lost during these accidents. That would change on the evening of Jan 10, 1883.

The fire started on the first floor and managed to spread up an elevator shaft. It quickly reached all six stories. The Newhall, used at this time mostly as a hotel had 300 people inside. Many managed to escape, and some Milwaukee citizens rushed to the blaze saving many lives that night as well. But not all were so lucky. The Newhall House fire claimed seventy-one victims. Many of them were unidentifyable. To that point in time, it was the worst fire that the city of Milwaukee had seen.