Located on Main & Washington St. in Boyertown, PA is this old Opera House that was built by G. Rhoads in 1885 for the purpose of having Plays & Opera on the 2nd Floor of the building. A National Bank occupied the 1st floor. Most people have passed this old building many times, including me, without really being aware of a horrid tragedy that happened here back in 1908. I have passed by this place a number of times, and never, ever knew anything about it. It looks just like any other older building in Boyertown, but looks here are deceiving.
On the evening of January 13th, 1908 a Play & Opera was scheduled to perform on the 2nd Floor. Many, many people came here to see the performance from around the area. The place was packed with people. Back in the day, lighting was done with kerosene lamps, and a jug/bucket was kept near-by to keep the fuel filled so lights would not go out. At sometime during the 3rd Act, someone knocked over one of the jugs of kerosene onto a light and it ignited into a fire. Most everything then was built of wood, and the fire spread fast. There was only 1 entrance & exit back then. People were screaming and climbing over each other to get out. Boyertown had only 1 Fire Company with just 1 Fire Truck & a small Police Force consisting of 2 Officers.
The response of the Fire Company was very slow back in the day. Water pressure was very weak for the fire hoses. The fire spread so fast that people were burned alive and were stacked 2 – 3 deep near the door. Most of them were trampled to death & burned where they fell. It took until 3 in the morning until the fire was declared out. Some of the bodies could not be identified, because of being burned so badly. A total of 171 people lost their lives on that horrible night.
You can’t even tell that something like that happened here. There are no objects or burn marks to show anything. The Fire Escapes were removed because they did nothing to help.
The horrific fire on that evening prompted the many Fire Codes you see in place today, so something like this never happens again. The people that could not be identified are buried in a mass grave at the entrance to the town of Boyertown.
Thanks for stopping by. It’s been a long Winter.