Fall River, MA Mill Fire, Nov 1877



Fall River, Mass., Nov. 17. -- Early this morning Borden City Mill No. 1 was totally destroyed by fire. It was a brick building, erected in 1872, contained 36,000 spindles, employed 450 hands, and was running full time. The theories as to its origin are as numerous as they are untenable. The explosion, as narrated by an operative who was in the mill when the fire broke out, is accounted for by gas, but this is equally lame, as the gas main is shut off every night and not opened till morning, and the man in charge states that he had just opened the main and proceeded about 40 feet into the mill when the alarm was given, not allowing time for sufficient gas to accumulate to create such a detonation and such disastrous results. The theory of friction and smoldering during the night is also equally absurd, as the watchman had passed through the room but a short time previous, and no indications of fire were discernible. The operative further states, that when he first saw the flames in the room the gas jets were yet unlighted, that duty belonging to the second hand of the mule room, who had not yet arrived. Another rumor was current that a couple of boys employed in the room lighted a lamp, and thinking the gas was turned on, attempted to accomplish the second hand's duty, but in the efforts the lamp fell to the floor, exploded, and the flames spread with whirlwind velocity. It is the custom in some of the mills for the help to arrive earlier on Saturday than on other days in order to clean up, and it is not altogether improbable that the latter theory may approximate the truth nearer than anything else given. These facts are known to the insurance companies, who will institute a rigid examination, and it is rumored that lawsuits may ensue before the losses are paid. The losses, it will be soon, fall principally upon Providence companies. It is the greatest loss which the companies have ever sustained, and it will be a long time before the claims will be adjusted. Many are of opinion that the burned mill can be built for the amount of the insurance, labor, machinery, &c., being so much cheaper than it was when it was originally erected.
The destruction of the building was as rapid as it was complete. As the fire gained headway floor after floor disappeared, the walls following in sections and with terrific reverberations as the joints and fastenings became unloosed from the brickwork. In 40 minutes the mill was a mass of ruins. Nothing but a corner of the south wall, the boiler house, smoke stack, and a small section of the north end were left standing. The flames ran rapidly from section to section, gathering strength and velocity from the oily belts and machinery, breaking out at the most unexpected places and at the most unexpected times, till the pile was one immense bonfire. The falling walls forced the firemen from their positions close to the building, and exposed them directly in the opening to the intense heat. GEORGE MACOMBER, a carpenter employed in the mill, was badly cut on the head by falling bricks. GILBERT FIELDS, engineer of the Metacomet steamer, was badly bruised between two teams while escaping from a falling wall. One of the horses belonging to the Metacomet machine stumbled and broke its leg. The Reindeer Hook and Ladder Truck on arriving drove near the walls, which at that moment descended. The tillerman and his driver jumped for life, escaping uninjured, but the truck was smashed and damaged about $800 worth. PATRICK O'BRIEN, of the Reindeer, had his foot badly injured by a falling plank. PHILIP LARY had a leg probably broken by a falling wall. It was rumored that AUSTIN CONWAY, first watchman, had been seen entering the building and could not be found, but the statement could not be verified. Firemen were playing on the ruins at a late hour tonight.
The loss is estimated at $450,000. Following is a corrected list of insurance:
Merchants -- $2,500.
What Cheer -- $15,000.
State -- $45,000.
Blackstone -- $4,000.
Worcester -- $40,000.
Fall River Manufacturers' -- $50,000.
Arkwright -- $50,000.
Fireman's -- $50,000.
Boston Manufacturers' -- $80,000.
Enterprise -- $20,000.
Hope -- $10,000.
All the above are mutual companies.

The New York Times New York 1877-11-18