“There is all that is left of our Kilby Street store” – Key, 19th Century (PR. 2004. 24)

Nov 10, 2021

By: Mandy Tuttle

149 years ago on November 9-10th 1872, a great fire raged through downtown Boston. The fire originated at a hoop skirt factory on Summer Street and destroyed 776 buildings before it was snuffed out at the intersection of Washington Street and Milk Street to save Old South Meetinghouse. In the fires’ wake was the downtown office of Revere Copper Company, started by Paul Revere in 1801. Located at 47 Kirby Street, the office burned down the morning of November 10th, 1872. All that remained were a set of keys and what had been placed in the fire safe the night before. 

A metal key with a y-shaped piece of wood attached by a piece of twine

Key to Revere Copper Company’s Kilby Street office building

In 2004, the Paul Revere Memorial Association (PRMA) titled their annual Lowell Lecture Series “A New England Nightmare: Major Fires and Their Enduring Effects.” The series examined significant fires in New England over the past 200 years. Upon receiving a flyer for the lecture series, Paul Revere, Jr., then President of the Board of Directors of the PRMA, sent Nina Zannieri, the museum’s Executive Director,  a copy of a newspaper article from the Boston Evening Transcript on November 7, 1936, the 64th anniversary of the Great Fire. 

In that newspaper is the transcript of a letter written by Grace Linzee Revere (Great Aunt to Paul Revere, Jr., and the great-granddaughter of Paul Revere, patriot) on November 11, 1872, just one day after the Great Fire. Grace tells the story of the fire through the eyes of the Revere family as they rushed to save the Revere Copper Company office in downtown Boston. She describes how anxious everyone was as the men scrambled to carry out papers and books from the building as the fire burned closer. Just after 9:00 AM on November 10th, her father John Revere “came into the room and exclaimed holding up a bunch of keys, ‘There is all that is left of our Kilby Street store.’” 

Back at the Revere House in 2004, historian Pat Leehey and director Nina Zannieri believed this was a great letter to reproduce in the fall issue of the Gazette (a newsletter for members) to tie the story of New England fires to the Paul Revere House and its larger legacy.  Following the publication, Paul Revere, Jr. remarked “Oh by the way, I have the key!” When he brought the key to the museum to be photographed on September 14, 2004, he donated it to the collection. The key is a cherished piece in our collection and it has been displayed several times since its donation.

Mandy Tuttle is a Program Assistant at the Paul Revere House.