Lawrence Mill Explosion 1887

EXPLOSION OF BOILERS AT THE LAWRENCE MILL
Three Men Killed Instantly, and Many Injured.

Ironton Register – Submitted by Kurt Hibler kurthibler@hotmail.com

IRONTON, OHIO, THURSDAY OCTOBER 27, 1887

DETAILS AND INCIDENTS OF THE SHOCKING DISASTER.

A fourth victim Expires in Great Agony.

A few minutes before 8 o’clock, last Monday morning, a battery of six boilers at the Lawrence Mill blew up, hurling their immense fragments high in air, into the valley of Storms creek and broadcast through the mill, where 150 or 200 man were at work. Three men at the bar mill rolls were killed outright. They were Michael Dyer, catcher, Jas. Dyer, catcher’s helper, and Thomas O. Davis, a veteran mill man then serving in the capacity of laborer. A huge section of boiler plate probably struck and killed them all at one blow. Besides these, Jas. Dyer, Sr. and Edward Dyer, his nephew, fell with the dead men, and his father may be fatally hurt. He is 67 years old and suffered internal injuries and a crushed hip. Ed. Dyer is seriously injured also, but will doubtless get well.

In another part of the mill, Peter Clay, the fireman’s helper, was lying with injuries the most serious sustained by any who survived the explosion. The bones of his left arm were horribly crushed, and his body burned dreadfully from head to foot.

Besides these sad cases nearly a score of other men were more or less injured, but not dangerously. The REGISTER has endeavored to get a full list of the victims, and will record them in another place.

The shock of the explosion was felt in almost every quarter of town. It made a rumbling, thunderous sound and a tremor like an earthquake, which shook windows and doors like a violent wind and aroused the whole population. There were three distinct vibrations, following so closely upon another that they all occupied only a few seconds of time. With the explosion, the machinery of the mill stopped running, the flying streaks of hot iron ceased their swift passage through the rolls, the roof opened and piles of stacked iron fell in a tangled mass, bits of board and brick and iron accompanied the more deadly missiles of boiler plate as they swept through the mill, and a storm of blinding dust and steam covered everything. The scene of active industry and companionable occupation was changed in the twinkling to the one of suffering and anguish. The next moment, members of the workmen’s families who lived near, came rushing toward the mill, and adding to the pandemonium of grief and astonishment as with agonizing cries they searched among the ruins for their loved ones.

When the first effect was over, the workmen who had escaped injury and had fled in terror to open air, returned to render any assistance possible, to their less fortunate companions. A fire alarm was turned in anticipation of impending flames, and, with the sound of the ominous whistle, hundreds of people flocked to the mill, from whence arose clouds of steam and dust, certain evidences of the location of the disaster.

That part of the works where the boilers were located was found in a sad plight, with the roof torn asunder and small fragments of iron and building material scattered about. A thin coating of mud covered the wreck. As the injured persons and others emerged from the mill, limping and bleeding and on the arms of friends anxious to render them assistance, they were bespattered with mud and in many cases marred beyond recognition by a complete coating which the black dust and steam had made. Physicians were promptly on the scene, and as there were none who needed their immediate services, called at once to the injured persons at their homes. All who were seriously hurt were taken away in carriages. The mangled forms of the dead were tenderly borne from the spot where they fell, by their late fellow workmen, who placed them upon boards, spread mantles of tarpaulin over them and solemnly conveyed them to where their grief-stricken families awaited them at home.

While these tender and delicate offices were being performed, the search among the ruins for other missing persons continued, and many there were who still suffered in agonizing suspense as they awaited tidings from their friends. Relatives of the employed who lived farther from the scene kept arriving, and met the sturdy workmen with affectionate greetings and exclamations of joy as they realized how great was their escape.

The boilers which exploded were each 28 feet long, 42 inches in diameter and contained two 15-inch flues. They were built by J. K. Hastings 13 years ago, and were tested only last June by an inspector of the Fidelity and Casualty Insurance Company of New York, who pronounced them in first class condition in a letter written to the officers of the mill company. The test was made in anticipation of an insurance policy of $7500 on boilers and machinery, which was afterwards written and is now in force. Two minutes before the explosion, the engineer, Floyd Barker, had tried the water in the boilers and found two and a half gauges, the proper amount. Hence the cause of the explosion remains a mystery. After trying the water, the engineer walked to the hoop mill engine to make some slight repairs, and in a minute, the explosion occurred. The noise was so dreadful and sudden that he could not analyze it, but he felt himself hit with a brick in the back and fled to the outside.

John D. Jones with face upturned, was pulling down the damper rod of his furnace at the moment of the explosion, and saw the roof open before he heard the report. R. H. Pritchard, who is usually engaged near the boilers, was in the office and escaped injury. The inmates of the office could not realize that the explosion was so near, though the sound they heard was terrible, and they thought the office building was falling.

The position of the boilers was on the side next to Storms creek and the S. V. and Iron Railway tracks, not far from the office. They lay parallel to the trains of rolls in the mill, and exactly opposite the train comprising the bar mill, and one end of guide mill. The fated family of Dyers were all struck near the bar mill. James Thomas, Sr., stood very near the boilers and was not injured at all, but was completely covered with the black mantle of dirt as others were. Robt. Jones and John Mayne, both seriously injured, were also both nearer the boilers than the men who were killed. A great fragment of boiler blew over the bar mill and rests on the ground beyond, on whose ragged edge tufts of hair were found, indicating the deadly weapon with which the unfortunate men were slain.

It seems wonderful how the other men at the bar mill, at the shears, guide mill, and some other parts of the works escaped with their lives. At the bar mill, two men, John Pritchard and Charles Sloan, were at work on the side next the boilers, and on the spot where they stood, a section of steam drum, probably 18 inches in diameter and 10 feet long, lies on the ground, where terrific force was required to launch it, one end nearly touching the billet of iron Pritchard was handling, and the other end entangled in the half rolled bar that was passing through young Sloan’s tongs. Their narrow escape from death is remarked by everyone who looks upon the positions. If Pritchard had been receiving the bar from the rolls instead of discharging it, as he would have been doing the next moment, he would have been in the track of the steam drum.

Most of the larger fragments of the wreck, however, blew outside of the mill, and this fact, unaccountable as the causes of the explosion, shielded many a human life. Most of the wrecked boilers landed in the Storms Creek bed. One boiler, almost complete, lies half way up the bank on the West Ironton side. Other pieces were imbedded in the soft mud up and down the creek for 200 yards. One fragment struck a telegraph pole and landed it in three pieces on the roof of a house in West Ironton. Another small piece of boiler went through the roof of John L. Abram’s house several hundred yards away, and came near striking Mrs. Abrams and children. Two girls on their way to work up town were passing along the railroad track near the boilers, and escaped unharmed, though terribly frightened. Evan Williams, Sr. had just left the office and passed by the boilers on the outside, to look at the cars. The force of the explosion seemed to burst out from the side of the boilers, but half of one boiler forced its way endwise through stacked iron in a carner of the mill and landed along side the office. The iron it disturbed was tangled up like straw. One of the flues in the boiler is broken off short but not otherwise mutilated, and the other one is collapsed like an envelope. Machine men who viewed the boiler say the water mark in it shows that the water supply was abundant.

The wreck made a woful sight, but interesting, in spite of its calamity and horrors, and groups of people may be seen there at any hour of the day since the accident, gazing upon the ruins.

Following is a complete list, as near as can be procured, of the victims of the disasters:

THE DEAD:

Michael Dyer, bar mill catcher, aged 38
Jas. Dyer, catcher’s helper, aged 35
Thomas O. Davis, aged 64
Peter Clay, fireman’s helper, aged 30

THE INJURED:

James Hatton, bar mill roller, flesh wounds on leg and left hand.
Frank Gagag, shearman, head bruised and cut, and hand bruised.
Thomas Hicks, heater for bar mill, bruised and scalded on hips and legs.
Jas. Dyer, laborer, age 67. Has ribs broken and hip crushed.
Edward Dyer, “hookup” on bar mill, scalded severely on head and body, and possibly injured internally.
Hiram Rust, straightener on bar mill, flesh wound in face.
Sonny Johnson, laborer, shoulder would.
Robert Jones, straightener on bar mill, bruises and ugly scratch on left hip, and similar injuries on right shoulder and arm.
John Wagner, straightener on bar mill, bruised across back and slightly burned, slight wound on hand.
John Pritchard, rougher at guide mill, right arm and left wrist cut, and ankle sprained.
Thomas W. Davis, heater, contused and bruised wound on right shoulder.
Ben Golden, colored fireman, face badly scalded.
John McCormick, rougher on bar mill, scalp cut, and wound on neck.
John Wagner, heater on hoop mill, slight bruise on arm.
Charles Sloan, scraper on guide mill, leg injured.
Geo. Sherman, guide mill shearman, cut on leg.
Mac Grubb, bundler on guide mill, wounds on back, left arm and right hip, and general bruises.
Michael Dyer lived on Sixth street near Etna, in a neat two story house which he owned. He was a quiet, industrious citizen and the head of a fine family. His wife and six children, three boys and three girls, are left to mourn an irreparable loss. Three of the children are in school, the oldest being ten years old. His wife, a good philosophical woman, was among the first to reach the mill after the accident, and knew her husband was killed because the people there sought to keep her from approaching. In deep anguish she preceded his remains to her home, but bears up nobly under the heavy stroke that has fallen upon her. The deceased was a cousin of Jas. Dyer, who was killed and a brother of Ed Dyer, who was injured, but was raised from childhood in his uncle’s family, with whom his brother Ed still resides. When the youngest daughter of that family heard of the calamity, she started to console the stricken widow, but upon seeing the men coming in the distance with Mike’s remains she fell fainting in the street.

James Dyer’s age was 35. he lived with his wife and daughter, their only child, a bright and intelligent girl of 12, in whom he builded many fond hopes. Their home was on Fifth below Vesuvius in the Isaminger house, which Dyer purchased a few years since. He was a kind and dutiful husband and parent and a man of sober habits and unobtrusive manners, whose death many will mourn. His excellent wife was formally Miss Mary McKenna, who for many years lived with Thos. McCarthy’s family when they resided next to the Baptist church. When the explosion occurred, her husband had just been home to breakfast, and she ran from the table she was clearing after the meal to the back door and beheld the wreck, reaching the scene in a few moments, as her husband’s fellow workmen came bearing his body from the ruins. She bore the terrible blow in silence, without a tear, but is now overcome with grief.

The other man killed instantly was Thos. O. Davis, a veteran mill man, who was formerly an “old mill” boiler, but has not worked in the mills for many years except as a substitute, until a few weeks ago when he took a laborer’s job in the Lawrence. He was the father of Mrs. Thos. Hibler, Mrs. Wm. Morgan, David Davis of Pullman, and Thomas and John Davis who are boys at home. He was a jolly, kind hearted man, a prominent Old Fellow and one of our best known citizens.

Peter Clay, the fireman who was so badly crushed and burned, died Tuesday morning, after 26 hours of untold suffering. He came from Ashland about a year since, and had worked at the Lawrence only a short time. His wife is a sensible, quiet woman, who comprehended the situation at once, and demanded of the doctors the whole truth as to her husband’s condition. There are two children in the family, a boy and girl of perhaps 5 and 3 years. The family%2

A copy of this edition of the Ironton Register (showing this story) is on display at the Rax restaurant on 3rd Street in Ironton.