The fire began shortly after 2 a.m. yesterday morning on the northwest side of the building in the Assembly library and quickly spread across the capitol's west side, devastating the State Library. The New York Tribune stated that more than 600,000 volumes were archived in the library that occupied the heavily hit third and fourth floors. The assembly chamber itself was only lightly affected by flames but smoke and water damage was high. A large brass and crystal chandelier in the Assembly chamber was destroyed when it crashed to the floor, demolishing many Assemblymen's desks as a result. The Senate chamber suffered light smoke and water damage.
The state legislature will be meeting in the Albany city hall until the capitol can be repaired to the point that it can be reoccupied.
The fire and water, in addition to damaging a number of offices of New York state officials (like the lieutenant Governor, the State Lunacy Commission, and the State Treasurer), caused significant structural damage. In particular, the large tower on the building's heavily damaged southwest corner caved in.
Governor John Dix released a statement yesterday on the disaster:
It is an appalling disaster. I consider the destruction of the state library a national loss. Fortunately the copies of Abraham Lincoln's emancipation proclamation and General Washington's farewell address were removed not long ago from the library to the safe in Commissioner Draper's office.Repair work is expected to begin as soon as the Legislature approves making plans and contracts, according to the State Architect Franklin Ware. Work began on the construction of the capitol in 1867 but the legislature didn't use the building until 1879. Ultimately, the building cost two and half times the Capitol building in Washington.
The only known victim of the fire is night watchman Samuel Abbott, a Civil War veteran, who is still missing.
Early speculation as to the cause of the fire is centered around "defective insulation of an electric light wire near a book case in the Assembly library", according to Dwight Goewey, a 17 year old proofreader who discovered the fire.
Link: Capitol at Albany Swept By Flames [The New York Tribune]
Link: $5,000,000 Fire Damages New York Capitol [The Bisbee Daily Review]