100th anniversary of Capitol fire

What the Capitol looked like after the fire

Decades from now, historians will assess the impact of Mother Nature on the capital city this week.

Coincidentally, 100 years ago this weekend, the weather had another major impact in Jefferson City.

February 5, 1911 was a Sunday. That evening, Mother Nature decided to hit the Capitol with an electrical storm. One lightning bolt hit the dome of the 19th century capitol building, which was framed with aging pine.

It burned like tinder.

Capitol historian Bob Priddy described it as a "spectacular fire."

"I talked to some people many years ago who were children who remembered that they saw the fire from miles away," Priddy said. "One man up in Callaway County watched it through binoculars from his family farm."

The fire burned through the night. The local horse-drawn firefighting apparatus was no match for the blaze, and firefighter reinforcements provided no help.

"Even though the Sedalia Fire Department arrived here late in the evening through a break-neck train ride across country, it was too late, because then all they could do was watch the building burn," Priddy explained.

At the Cottonstone Gallery on High Street, Jefferson City artist Jim Dyke has assembled a large display of photos, furniture, and his own painting of the fire.

Dyke also organized a program at the Capitol Saturday evening at 6:15, the hour the fire began.

The fire department plans to circle the building with fire trucks at that time to remember what happened 100 years before.

"They have special search lights that, hopefully, will mimic the effect of seeing the fire, as far as 20 miles away," Dyke explained.

His own fascination with the event stems from the stories of a human brigade that included hundreds of volunteers who saved documents, paintings, and other items of value.

"The human chain that Secretary of State Cornelius formed to get the items out of the Capitol was take a piece of history, pass it on to the next person," Dyke said. "And so, that carries on to today where we take Missouri history and pass it on to the next person."

Bob Priddy has a new book about the Capitol coming out in April.

Photos of the fire are on permanent display on the walls near the House Hearing rooms in the Capitol basement.

The program Saturday, February 5 begins at 6:15 in the Capitol rotunda. It's free and open to the public.