Illustration: Adam Wilson

It was around 2am on April 4, 1880, when the first of three false fire alarms occurred. The fire department was busy checking them out, not realizing that the fourth alarm was real and resulted in St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Bank St. being destroyed by fire.

At 4am, the Sexton at St. Joseph’s Parish in Sandy Hill arrived an hour earlier than normal. When he entered the church, he noticed a flame burning by the alter. He investigated and saw that the flame was starting to burn the wooden altar. He extinguished the fire and proceeded to open the gas lights to check out the church for further possible fires. Upon scanning the church for fires, he looked up to the organ loft and noticed a man. The man saw the Sexton and rushed down the stairs and out the front door of the church into the wintery weather. The Sexton was not able to chase the man.

The Sexton checked out the church and found three confessionals with lit candles burning precariously close to the wood. He discovered as well that the arsonist had drank the communion wine and burned the communion wafers. Limited damage was done to the church. City council offered a $200 reward. Due to the scarcity of newspapers available during this time period I could not ascertain if the arsonist was ever caught.

Terry Byrne
St. Joseph’s Parish Historian

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