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Interpreting the Evidence

New York State Capitol, Morning after Fire, 1911

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    Capital District
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load New York State Capitol, Morning after Fire, 1911 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
New York State Capitol the morning after the fire, 1911.
Historical Context
In the early morning of March 29, 1911, a terrible fire raged at the New York State Capitol.  The fire started in the Assembly Library and quickly spread to the State Library. People gathered in horror to watch the blaze.  Scorched sheets of paper from books and manuscripts filled the sky, and some observers described the scene as looking like snowflakes drifting over the city of Albany.  

By the time the fire was put out, most of the west side of the building had been destroyed.  The damage to the State Library was devastating.  The fire destroyed 450,000 books, 270,000 manuscripts, and the library's catalog consisting of nearly 1,000,000 cards.  Many of the papers destroyed were irreplaceable historical documents.  There was one fatality as a result of the fire, Civil War veteran Samuel Abbot, the night watchman at the State Library. While the cause of the fire was never determined, the outdated electrical system was probably at fault.

Essential Question
How are citizens impacted by the destruction of cultural resources?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain the impact of this event on the people of New York State.
Historical Challenges
When was the New York State Library planning to move to a building separate from the Capitol?
Interdisciplinary Connections
Science: How might an electrical system cause a fire? Research fire department resources and technology in 1911. Was fire a common occurrence in cities at this time? Why?