January 13th is one of the most significant days in Boyertown history. Today marks the 113 Anniversary of the Rhoads Opera House Fire. On the evening of January 13th, 1908, 170 men, women and children perished in the fire. Meaning 10% of Boyertown’s population at the time, had died in one night. One fire fighter also died on the way to the fire.
69 News put together a wonderful documentary and tell the fascinating story of the events leading up to and what happened after the fire. You can watch it here.
Nearly 400 people were on the second floor of the building at the corner of Washington and Philadelphia Ave. when the fire broke out. However, two fire escapes were not only not marked, the window sills were 3’ high with locked windows. Walkways were narrow and all the doors opened inward creating a barrier when the crowd rushed the doors.
This incident was the catalyst that pushed the PA Legislature into passing new legislative standards for doors, landings, lighting and curtains, fire extinguishers, aisles and marked exits. All doors are now required to open outward and remain unlocked. Governor Edwin Stewart signed PA’s first fire law on May 3rd, 1909. This legislation served as a model for other states creating fire standards in public buildings.
This Sunday, January 17, 2021 at 1pm, The Boyertown Historical Society is hosting a wreath laying event in remembrance of the victims of the Opera House fire. It will be held at the Graves at the Unidentified. https://www.facebook.com/events/2773612172953708