Wake Forest Historical Museum

LOCATION: 414 N. Main Street Wake Forest, NC 27587 CONTACT: 919-556-2911

The Downtown Blaze of 1896

In early January 1896, several of the wooden buildings in downtown Wake Forest burned to the ground.

The news broke on the morning of January 9, 1896, with reports appearing on the front pages of newspapers across the state.


Believed to Have Originated Accidentally in a Stable

The only serious fire which Wake Forest ever had broke out last night about 8 o’clock and swept away a stable, a fertilizer warehouse, and three stores. It seems to have originated accidentally in the stable from a spark from a pipe or cigar or possibly from a railroad engine.

The stable was enveloped in flames when the alarm was given. The warehouse in contact with the stable caught next, then the house of Mr. Marion Purefoy, occupied below by Dr. W. C. Lankford as a drug store and post office, and by Mr. Ed Allen, stationery etc., and above by the Odd Fellows.

The store of Mr. W. J. Wingate, a new building, and that of his brother, W. B. Wingate, occupied by N. A. Dunn & Company make, with the Purefoy house, practically one building–all of wood–which burnt rapidly.

For about an hour the residence of Professor Poteat was in danger through a house and a yard office near the railroad, as was also the rest of the business portion of the town, but by the heroic and united efforts of the large body of students assisted by a number of others the the fire was checked.

The large brick store of W. C. Powell & Company, though in about six feet of W. B. Wingate’s, was uninjured except in tearing off some of the tin to pour water on the hot timbers below. Will Kelly was repeatedly drenched with water in order to enable him to get close enough to the danger point on the roof to put water on it.

The loss is estimated as follows: W. C. Powell & Company, stable, $100; W. W. Holding, warehouse, $500, no insurance; M. Purefoy, store and Odd Fellows Lodge, $1,000, no insurance; W. J. Wingate, building and stock, $9,500, insurance of $5,000; W. B. Wingate, building, $1,500, no insurance; N. A. Dunn, stock, $1,000, no insurance; Ed Allen, $250, no insurance; W. C. Langford, $1,000, no insurance.

(The reported loss of $14,850 would total approximately $405, 000 in 2017 dollars.)

No serious accidents occurred except the mashing of the hand of one student and the foot of another.

The bulk of Mr. Dunn’s loss he thinks due to pilfering.

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Hours & Info

Tues-Fri: 9am-noon & 1:30-4:30pm
Sun: 2pm-5pm

Closed: Saturday and Monday

Call us at 919.556.2911

Free Admission

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A lovely bouquet left by the Wake Forest Garden Club. WFHS tassel. We’re going through the collection and it’s fun! Downtown Zebulon, NC at night. Simply stunning. Want to know what today’s weather was like exactly 90-years ago? This 1928 Farm Journal was kept at Oakforest in Forestville and that day was “Fair and cold. Henry, Richard and I went to Raleigh today. Philo and Junior sawed and hauled firewood and then hauled logs to the same mill.” Many thanks to Barbara Massenburg for giving us a look at this very cool artifact!