At 6:30 am on March 14th, 1891, a fire was discovered at the Hier and Leighton Cigar Factory at West Fayette and Franklin Street, also known as the Hogan Block. The Hogan Block was a commercial block built in two stages in 1895 by attorney Thomas Hogan. It housed a warehouse, a retail business, and a restaurant. Charles Colton designed it in the Second Renaissance Revival style.
There were rumors that the fire started in an empty store front on the same block. Strong winds spread the burning embers east along Fayette and Washington Streets, igniting many buildings along the way, over to Montgomery Street in front of City Hall and adjacent to the large Vanderbilt Hotel. Calls went out to nearby cities to send additional equipment. Fortunately, the New York Central Railroad’s track ran down the middle of Washington Street and two of their locomotive mounted fire apparatus helped save the hotel. Unfortunately, the entire Montgomery Flats Apartment Building, next door, burned to the ground. Men and equipment also arrived from Rome, Fulton, Oswego, Utica and Canastota.
An article about the fire took up an entire page of the Evening Herald later that day, its first line a colorful explanation of the morning’s events,
“Syracuse never opened its eyes on such a spectacular drama as roused from her morning slumber today.”
There, the fire tore through the Montgomery Flats, a six story residential structure with shops on the ground floor. Fortunately, the tenants were able to evacuate in time and no lives were lost. Utica and Oswego fire companies and two New York Central fire fighting locomotives were called in to help extinguish the blaze. Over a dozen buildings were damaged by the fire on a number of blocks, the Crouse block, the United States Hotel block, and the Van Rensselaer block. According to the article, “at 3:30pm, the fire was under control, with the east half of the block between Washington, Fayette, Montgomery, and Warrern streets” laying in “a smoking waste” The Journal building was also a victim to the fire after the “fire crept east” causing the chimney of the Cook building to fall and crash through the roof of the Journal.
The area where the Montgomery Flats was located became the site for the Yates Hotel, which opened on September 17th, 1892, and is now the parking lot next to Key Bank.
Ironically, cigars would be sold on the site by the Syracuse Cigar and Tobacco Company at the Yates Hotel Cigar Store.
Back at the Hogan Block, flames had also leaped across to the other side of Franklin Street, where the parking garage is located today. Due to the heroic work of many, the fires were under control by the afternoon. Although most of downtown was saved, and no one was injured, there were several buildings and businesses ruined. Costs were estimated at $1 million – equivalent to more than $25 million today. It remains one of the most one of the most damaging fires in Syracuse history. The Hogan Block was soon rebuilt and its infamous legacy mostly forgotten today.