Fire Races Through Georgetown Library
Key Neighborhood Archives May Have Been Destroyed
By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 30, 2007; 3:34 PM
Smoke from the Georgetown branch of the D.C. Public Library billowed through a neighborhood of stately mansions today, as the library's archivist said it appeared important documents on the neighborhood were burning.
As he watched the smoke pouring out of the roof and second story of the building at 3260 R Street, N.W., Gerry McCoy, the archivist who also is librarian of the branch's Peabody Room, said photos, maps and oil paintings of the neighborhood were stored in the west end of the building, which he said was built in 1935. "This has always been my worst nightmare. I've always feared this would happen," he said. "I've always thought if there was a fire, what would I grab first."
Among the items in the collection, McCoy said, were files on every address in the neighborhood compiled from over "20 years worth of research." He said the oil paintings include a very valuable one by James Alexander Simpson of Georgetown resident, Yarrow Mamout, who was a freed slave. The collection also includes copies of the Maryland Gazette newspaper from 1775 and 1776, which reported the Declaration of Independence as a news story, according to McCoy. Other items include Civil War maps.
Alan Etter, a fire department spokesman, said no one was hurt in the blaze. Heavy smoke and damage kept firefighters out of the building more than two hours after the fire was reported at 12:30 p.m. Fire officials said they did not know the cause of the library fire.
"The building is in various stages of collapse," Etter said. "From the top of the ladder you can see sections of the roof the size of a [Ford] Crown Vic dropping into the second floor."
Etter added that he couldn't remember two, three-alarm fires in one day, referring to the Eastern Market.
The Georgetown branch and other D.C. libraries have no fire suppression systems, said Richard Levy, a member of the D.C. Library board of trustees and chairman of the facilities committee.
"We are in the process of renovating all of the branches. There are smoke detectors, but no sprinklers," he said.
Ginnie Cooper, chief librarian for the city, said it is common for libraries not to have any sprinklers because "the inadvertent letting off of water can be more damaging than smoke."
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who was on the scene, said "this is our historic flagship library."