On this day in 1788, a huge fire, fanned by wind coming off the Mississippi River, consumed most of the structures in New Orleans. Exactly how the fire started remains a mystery. (It would have been a long commute for Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.) We do, though, know that New Orleans, like most cities at the time, had almost no firefighting apparatus. So the results were predictable: the city’s French-era architecture, including the original Cabildo, was reduced to ashes. The Customs House and the Ursuline Convent were among the very few major buildings to survive the blaze.

New Orleans’s Spanish authorities would rebuild, replacing wooden structures with brick buildings, often constructed around airy courtyards, and ornamented with elaborate wrought-iron balconies: the misnamed French Quarter’s signature architectural style. In sum, as with previous disasters and many that would strike the city later in its history, New Orleans emerged from the catastrophe better than ever.