On December 26, 1811, some 600 people crammed into the Richmond Theatre to view a performance put on by the actors of the Placide and Green Company. Following the first act, a crew member raised a lit chandelier, catching fire to the oil-painted hemp backgrounds. The fire spread quickly through the poorly designed theater, which was built to hold no more than 500 people.
Despite the heroic attempts of an enslaved man named Gilbert Hunt and other brave guests, 72 people, including acting governor George Smith, perished in the nearly 1,000-degree Fahrenheit flames. The once great theater was reduced to ash and rubble.
In 1814, the Monumental Church was built to memorialize those who perished during the great fire. In front of the church rests an urn, inscribed with the victims’ names. Underneath the church is a crypt which contains the remains of the victims.