Minneapolis, MN Mill Fire, Dec 1881

Milling District & Bridge, 1886, photo from familyoldphotos.com Milling District & Bridge, 1900s, photo from familyoldphotos.com Milling District & Bridge, 1900s, photo from familyoldphotos.com

A Sunday Morning Sensation.

Details, Loss and Insurance

At about 4 o'clock this forenoon a fire was discovered in the oil room of the Pillsbury B mill, the fourth in the row of mills between the canal and the river; below Sixth avenue south. The mill was in operation at the time and one of the millers who had been in the upper part of the building to look after some part of the machinery, smelt smoke and instituted an investigation only to discover that the fire had made rapid progress among the combustible material in the oil room. The alarm was turned in for the whole fire department and a prompt response followed. Meantime, the fire spread rapidly and marked for its victims the three mills operated by Chas. A. Pillsbury & Co. on the west side of the river, and the intervening mill of Crocker, Fisk & Co. The firemen were battling vigorously with the fire in the Pillsbury B and Excelsior mills with a fair prospect of staying its progress there. The fire had communicated tot he mill of Crocker, Fisk, & Co., next adjoining however when consternation was created by a fearful explosion which leveled the walls of the structure, crushing the elevated railroad track in front of the mill and


injuring another fatally, and several others in a less degree. It is possible that more than three fatalities have occurred as the result of the explosion, but how many cannot now be definitely stated. Among the number killed were Assistant Chief Engineer Neil Fredericks and a member of the Hook and Ladder Company No. 4, named Huey, [probably John Luhy or Tuhey] who with other firemen occupied a place on the elevated railroad track, immediately in front of the mill. Several other of the firemen similarly engaged were injured and the force at the flames somewhat disorganized in consequence. A third person who has not yet been identified, and who occupied a place in front of the office of Pillsbury & co., was killed by a flying missile, and one other person who was standing under the elevated road, and who was crushed to death by the walls and timbers of the railroad track, is known to have been killed.


will be disclosed with the removal of the debris which is now in progress. The flames from the mill in which the explosion occurred communicated to the Empire mill on the corner next adjoining and to the cotton mill, a small frame structure immediately in the rear and facing upon the platform. The fireman, sick and sad with the loss of their fellows, made a magnificent effort and stayed the fire at the corner in the Empire mill, saving with the utmost difficulty the Cataract mill of D. R. Barber & Co just across the street. Before 7 o'clock the fire which menaced the whole milling district, was under control and further danger removed. The loss aggregated a round $600,000, and involved the destruction of four flouring mills and the cotton mill. The paper mill building next to the Pillsbury B, in which the fire originated was saved uninjured. Three of the four flouring mills were operated by Chas. A. Pillsbury & Co., who, however only owned the one in which the fire originated. The Excelsior was the property of D. Morrison, as was also the Cotton mill, and the Empire belonged to L. S. Watson of New York, and the fourth was the property of Crocker & Co. The loss of Pillsbury & Co. is pretty well covered by insurance, as is the loss of Crocker, Fisk & Co and of T. L. Watson. The buildings of D. Morrison were not heavily insured, and he is probably


by the fire. The explosion was on of general violence, shattering windows as far as ten blocks away from the scene and startling people from their early slumbers in all parts of the city. The cause is all a matter of speculation, thus far. The mill had been shut down for some time and the explosion is likely to have been from confined gas as from flour dust, to which the Washburn mill explosion was attributed. The explosion, violent as it was proved to be, did not topple the walls of the Empire mill but spent its force by blowing the roof into the air and front and rear walls out, the debris leveling in its progress the great timbers of the railroad track in the front and rear of the mills. . . .

When Sergeant West [of the police force] reached the scene ... a few of this fellow firemen were standing on the Minneapolis & St. Louis elevator track, running evenly with the second floor of the Crocker, Fisk & co., mills. Two firemen were on top of the latter building, little anticipating the terrible experience and marvelous escape but a moment ahead of them


occurred in the Crocker Fisk mill, tearing the building into fragments, hurling the two men on the roof to the roof the the adjoining mill, from which point they were recovered a few minutes afterwards without great injury than mere scratches. The front of the exploded mill was thrown outward in a mass of flying debris, traveling with the force of a cannon ball, inflicting few bodily injuries among the spectators owing to the limited number congregated on the ground where the frightened incident of the casualty occurred. The Peasy timbers, rails and posts in the elevated track were bent down or splintered and in their fall tore through the planking of the platform creating a wreck and maiming of human bodies which words cannot picture. Poor Neill Frederick as good a man and faithful an official as ever lived was struck on the side of the head by some fragment, tearing the skull open in a shocking manner and causing instant death. The body, active and vigilant a moment before, was picked upon the broken and splintered track, but all trace of life had disappeared. He was carried into the Pillsbury office, and the search began for his late associates, whose bodies were covered by debris or driven partially under the platform and the splintered mills. . . .

At 8:15 the body of an unknown man, not a fireman, was removed from underneath the timers, a mass of broken bones but slightly lacerated flesh and clothing nearly intact . . .

At 8:30 the firemen still retained their sorrowful posts under the direction of Chief Engineer Brackett, who gave his orders with rare judgment, notwithstanding a grief for his loved associates which he could not conceal even in the midst of his direct and great responsibility. At that hour three dead bodies were lying in the Pillsbury & Co. office and another injured fireman taken to the Ames hospital, had died of his injuries. He is believed to be a member of Hose Company, No. 4. Mr. Fredericks, the dead assistant engineer, was one of the oldest members of the department, and a man generally and deservedly esteemed, being known throughout the city. He was about thirty-five years of age, a German by birth, but long a resident here, and there is not a citizen of Minneapolis who will not mourn the loss of a kindly and efficient officer. The officer, at the time of his death, was known to have held an accident insurance policy for $3,000, and is understood to have owned considerable property. . . .


may be summed up: The Pillsbury B mill, owned by C. A. Pillsbury & Co., was vained on the books of the firm at $140,000, which included the site. The Empire, owned by L. S. Watson of Massachusetts was worth $125,000, and the Excelsior, owned by D. Morrison, $100,000 and the Minneapolis mill of Crocker, Fisk & Co. was worth $125,000. All the mills contained more or less stock. Pillsbury & Co. were be fully covered by insurance on the is part of the loss. Their total net loss is proabbly $50,000 on the Pillsbury B mill. The cotton mill was valued at $40,000, was owned by D. Morrison, and leased by Henry Honkompl.


CORNELIUS FREDRICKS, the assistant chief engineer of the department, was crusted under the falling wall of the Minneapolis mill and instantly killed.

John Luhy, a member of Hook & Ladder company No. 3.

Alex Burk, sweeper in the Pillsbury B. mill was standing on the steps of the office of C. A. Pillsbury & Co. when the explosion occurred. He was struck on the head with a stone and died from his injuries at 8:20 a.m.

The Freeborn County Standard, Albert Lea, MN, Dec 1881


The explosion occurred in the Empire mill, wrecking it burying in the ruins Neil Fredericks, assistant chief of the fire department, John Tuhey, member hook and ladder company No. 3, Alex Burk, sweeper in Pillsbury B and R.R. Robinson, a millwright. Daniel Horbach, fireman, Fred Relke, fireman, F. L. Coulter and Peter Nelson, fireman, were seriously but not fatally injured.

Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, ND, 9 Dec 1881