Dec. 7, 1851: A massive fire breaks out around 5 a.m. in the Larrabee & Jordan grocery store in Portland, on the eastern side of Commercial Wharf, destroying many wharves and commercial buildings along the city’s waterfront. Twenty-seven stores and nine vessels burn.

The city’s Eastern Argus newspaper gauges it to be the worst Portland fire in a half-century.

Because it was a Sunday morning, the fire probably went undetected until it was fully underway, roaring through the area’s multitude of combustible material.

The lost businesses include several grocery stores and a pair of fish markets, as well as many other buildings. One businessman loses six buildings, none of which was insured. The loss of goods includes vast quantities of mackerel, corn, molasses and ship’s sails.

The fire strikes during low tide, and ships are aground and dried out. Many are destroyed or sustain severe damage.

The flames hem in five or six firefighters on Commercial Wharf, inflicting burns on them.

Police arrest people who are looting the shops during the blaze.

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]

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