The Point Lookout Lighthouse

Point Lookout Lighthouse

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Prior to 1921, there was no National Archives building, and critical historical documents were stored in an unlocked room in the basement of the Commerce Building.  Smoke was reported late in the day on January 10, 1921, and fireman quickly flooded the building to extinguish the fire.   The problem was that the water did almost as much damage as the fire, and after many months of delay, the water-logged documents were unsalvageable.   Luckily there was a fireproof floor above the basement, so the fire was contained to the basement; other documents were stored on different floors in the Commerce Building, and by a miracle were saved from the ravages of fire and water.    Disaster planning and preservation efforts were at a very crude stage in the early part of the 20th century.

 The NARA website has a fascinating article about the fire and the final push for a National Archives: