Philip Goldsborough discusses how a long history of fires in Crisfield, Maryland were impacted by community infrastructure and development. This story is a collaboration between Crisfield High School students Issy M., Alexis Perez, Shaela Payne, Anastasia Johnson and Thomas Albrecht. It was created for Stories: YES and supported by Crisfield Heritage Foundation.
Speaker 1 (00:08): To include the hardships of Crisfield and its major infrastructure changes, we interviewed Mr. Phillip Goldsborough to get a better understanding of what led to our current state of infrastructure.
Mr. Phillip Goldsborough (00:19): [inaudible 00:00:19] change there.
Speaker 3 (00:20): Okay. And do you recall the fire of Woodson in '72?
Mr. Phillip Goldsborough (00:25): Yes. Ma'am, because I went into it.
Speaker 3 (00:26): You did?
Mr. Phillip Goldsborough (00:27): Yes.
Speaker 3 (00:28): Was it as tragic as what we read in our research?
Mr. Phillip Goldsborough (00:31): Yes, it was. Yes, it was. Listen, fires are always tragic. No one ever benefits from a fire. It's very hard to recover from the fire. The only thing a fire will ever do for you is give you a chance to do something different. Example is downtown. When the downtown section in 1883 burned, from Main Street all the way down to the Depot pretty well was wiped out. The reason for that was because the buildings were built out of wood very quickly. The town was booming. Just like you see in the Midwest, some of the buildings had artificial fronts and a small resection because it was in a hurry. Everything was in a hurry because people wanted to make money. The railroad was here and the town was really booming.
Mr. Phillip Goldsborough (01:15): But what people had forgot, there was no fire protection, there was no water system, there was no fire company. 1874 before we even had a fire company. In 1928, we had another major fire. This was in the uptown area. Uptown, where the post office is all today, there was a wholesale store where the post office is today. So this fire also was like that. So one building burnt to the other, and the fire company, even though we had an engine at the time ... This is our first fire engine, as a matter of fact, and we still have it in the fire station. You could go to the first station and visit and see this. So fire equipment's very limited, water systems are very limited.
Mr. Phillip Goldsborough (01:57): But jumping ahead a little bit, by 1928, we did have a water system and we did have several firetrucks. Still couldn't attack the fire like that. Started in the arcade theater. One of the projectors caught the building on fire. People went out nicely, no one got hurt in the building. And only one person died in the 1928 fire. More than 60 buildings were destroyed. And many families, including African American families that were on the forestry area, houses were burned down as well. So here we are again, the town wiped out, literally, and we got to get going fast. Newspaper article says the fire was on Thursday, I think it was the 29th or 28th of March. The paper came out on Saturday.
Speaker 1 (02:45): Why do you think it took so long for you to decide to actually make a plan?
Mr. Phillip Goldsborough (02:50): Because it's very hard for us to learn. We have to learn the hard way.
Speaker 3 (02:54): Would you say a majority of the brick buildings that were built then, do some of them still stand today?
Mr. Phillip Goldsborough (03:01): Yes, ma'am. And one of the buildings, that real tall building downtown that's three stories high, that's one of the buildings that actually survived the 1928 fire because it was brick. The building next to it was not constructed of brick, and had a lot of wood structure in it, so it was destroyed in the fire. So now we have a chance to plan something. We don't want this happening anymore. So now, with the right codes in our city code, that you have to have certain back sets, you have to have a building that is built out of brick, and not so much of that wood anymore, that you can't build a plain wooden structure anymore, because that's very dangerous and fire will spread. Now, when we have a fire, after 1928, issues are isolated in one section. The fire company's gotten bigger, we now have a water system. And even today, we have over 800,000 gallons of water right now, standing in our towers.
Mr. Phillip Goldsborough (03:51): So in October of 1987, we had another major fire downtown, and that destroyed two city blocks, completely. The problem there is, the city water system, and this is something else you don't realize, 800,000 gallons of water is not a lot of water when you have a fire of that sort. So we then went into the river and drafted water out of the Annemessex river. And in my case, I ran a fire pump for 24 hours without stopping, pumping out of the river, and pumping over 1,500 gallons a minute on that fire. So we've actually improved the situation. Hopefully in the future, now, maybe we'll have fires at one location and can control them and we don't have these fires that literally burn the town down and disrupt the economy. Well, I don't know if it was any better. It had more going on.
Speaker 3 (04:40): A lot more entertainment.
Mr. Phillip Goldsborough (04:41): So the town has changed several times. So for you guys, if you don't learn history, you're going to repeat it. Is that correct?
Speaker 1 (04:50): Right.
Speaker 3 (04:50): That's right.
Mr. Phillip Goldsborough (04:50): So what's your challenge is here now, is what I've just told you, what we've been through and what we've learned. You now have that knowledge. You don't have to go through that experience; we did it for you.
Speaker 1 (05:02): I have one more question.
Mr. Phillip Goldsborough (05:03): Go right ahead.
Speaker 1 (05:06): After the fires, the first fires, and rebuilding and another fire and rebuilding, would you say that the economy in our state, in Crisfield state, were we able to keep rebuilding? Were we financially stable enough to keep rebuilding?
Mr. Phillip Goldsborough (05:22): Yes, I would say that's correct. Yes, we could.
Speaker 1 (05:26): From this interview with Mr. Goldsborough and deep studying of Crisfield's true roots and changes, we fully grasp the infrastructure we are left with today. As said in the interview with Mr. Goldsborough, the generation before us has made the mistakes and learned the lessons. With this knowledge, where will we take it?
Asset ID: 8592
Themes: Crossroads, small towns, fire, firefighting, urban planning, building, resilience
Date recorded: 2019
Length of recording: 5:52 m
Related traveling exhibition: Crossroads: Change in Rural America
Sponsor or affiliated organization: Crisfield Heritage Foundation, Maryland
More information: https://museumonmainstreet.org/blog-node/students-highlight-change-marylands-eastern-shore