FIRE AND FLOOD IN PATERSON In Paterson, New Jersey, in February and March, 1902, with an interval of less than a month, occurred two of the most serious disasters which any of the smaller cities has been called upon to face. The first of these was a fire which destroyed the principal business district of the city, including banks, stores, library and municipal offices, and several blocks of the residence district of the working people. The weight of this calamity fell upon some six hundred families who were neither in prosperous nor in straitened circumstances. Before the life of the com munity had resumed its normal character an unprece dented freshet in the Passaic River flooded the city, greatly damaging the mills, costing a loss of several lives, and throwing several thousand people temporarily out of employment.
On the initiative of the Rev. David Stuart Hamilton, rector of St. Paul's Protestant Episcopal Church, a citi zens' meeting was held, at which a fire relief committee was organized with Mr. Hamilton as chairman, and it was understood that the Charity League, a small society which was the forerunner of the Charity Organization Society formed a year after the fire, would also cooperate. At the meeting of citizens it was decided that relief funds should be concentrated, and an appeal was made in the name of the Central Relief Committee. A fund of $34,217.58 was raised from citizens of Paterson. The offer of a New York newspaper to establish and maintain a relief station was declined, with all other offers of out side assistance, of which several were received.
An indication of the confusion and lack of appreciation of the real situation, which are not unusual in emergen cies of this kind, was the sending of several quarts of 405 milk and large quantities of bread to the armory, to the embarrassment of the committee responsible for their dis tribution, in view of the fact that only twelve persons came to that building for shelter. With the exception of these twelve and a few who were taken to hospitals and other public institutions, all of the burned-out fami lies were received, so far as immediate shelter was con cerned, into the homes of their friends and neighbors.
It was estimated that two thousand individuals were made homeless. The district in which the houses that were burned were located included several blocks of small wooden houses closely built, and in some parts thickly populated. They were occupied by American, German, Irish, Italian, and Polish families, most of whom worked in the silk-mills and dye-houses. There were also some small traders, —fruit dealers, tailors, barbers, etc. For the most part they were hard-working, respectable people, living under fairly comfortable conditions, but there were few who had insurance or even modest bank accounts.
On the morning following the fire St. Paul's Parish House, which had been designated as a relief station, was filled with victims of the disaster and with workers of the committee. The burned-out families who had not re quired shelter soon began to realize that they did require nearly everything else. Rows of dejected families sat along the walls of the parish room, and pitiful stories, often in unintelligible English, were poured into the ears of the members of the committee. There was little op portunity for consideration, and only gradually was a system of looking into the needs of applicants worked out. At the beginning the distribution of clothing occu pied the chief attention of the committee. On a blank prepared for the purpose the name of each applicant was taken down with the address, occupation, etc. Detectives were employed to expose any fraudulent claims. While an investigation was being made, the applicant was sent to secure rooms, the committee promising to pay rent for a month or a half month as seemed necessary. When an entry of this action and of the inquiry had been made the record passed to the chairman of the Charity League's committee for signature. Her assistant stamped and numbered the record, wrote out the relief orders, and finally filed and indexed the record for reference. The following is a typical order for a family consisting of man and wife (without children), who had lost all their pos sessions.