Shuwangunk, NY Boiler Explosion, May 1874




From Our Own Correspondent.

NEWBURG, Monday, May 4, 1874. Shuwangunk, Ulster County, where the terrible boiler explosion occurred on Saturday, is situated on the Wallkill Valley Railroad, twelve miles across the country from here, and three miles from Walden, exactly on the line between Ulster and Orange Counties. It is a small inland village, and the disaster is therefore more keenly felt.

Condit's paper mill, the boiler in which exploded, was the main manufactory in the village. It was a large brick and frame building, and had two wings, in one of which was located the defective boiler. The entire mill is in ruins, as completely demolished as if blown up with gunpowder. The disaster occurred just before 6 P. M. One section of the boiler weighing six or seven tons was hurled far away on to an adjacent hill. Twenty-three persons were at work in the mill when the explosion occurred.

William B. Hill, thirty years of age, was at work by an ash-tub. He was smashed down into the tub, and, no doubt, killed instantly. He leaves a wife and two children. Mary McLaughlin, aged about twenty, and Eliza Conklin, aged eighteen, were sitting on chairs in the rear of the boiler about fifteen feet. The roof of the building fell upon them, and they were crushed to death where they sat. Mr. E. Harwood was in conversation with Miss Conklin at the time, but he escaped unhurt. He was an eye-witness of the death of both of the girls.

A man named Robert Owens, who formerly worked at Fishkill, reached Shawangunk on Friday and went to work in the mill on Saturday. He had been at work but a short time when the explosion occurred. He was hurled over one hundred feet and come down a shapeless mass.

Michael Flannigan was at work near the boiler also. He was blown straight up in the air, and his body was not found till yesterday on a roof one hundred feet from the demolished building.

Patrick Tuey had the top of his head blown off, and his face so mutilated that the body could hardly be identified.

Peter Ostrander, another of the killed, was not badly disfigured. He leaves a wife and four children.

George Robinson, another employe[sic], had his upper jaw broken, nose smashed, and face badly bruised. He will die.

Joseph Johnson was terribly scalded, but it is believed he will recover, though he is delirious.

All information shows that the boiler, a rotary, 20 feet long and 7 feet in diameter, was a poor one. It was situated between two large cylinders, one of which was filled with alkali, and the other with steam. This huge boiler, which was packed with straw, revolved between these cylinders, and was connected by a large hollow journals, through which the steam and alkali passed into the straw. It is stated that the steam pressure was 100 pounds to the square inch, and the boiler was leaky through a strained seam. This seam had been sprung, and had leak for about six weeks. On Saturday it leaked worse than ever, and was thought to be dangerous by the men. The Superintendent, Thos. F. Tranter, had been to New-Paltz during the day, and when he returned was notified in regard to the leak. He said he would telegraph to the owner, and find out if he should stop the machinery and fix the boiler, or let it go. Had he ordered the machinery stopped, as he should have done, and the steam let off, a terrible casualty would have been averted.

This boiler has been dangerous for some time, and several men have left the mill on account of the danger. Charles McLaughlin, and uncle of Mary McLaughlin, who was killed, said that he resigned two weeks before the 1st of May, because he did not deem the boiler safe. Josiah Martin who had been a fireman in the mill a number of years, resigned his position the 1st of April for the same cause. He told Tranter before he left that the boiler was unsafe and he would not work where his life was in danger.

T. H. Blackwell, Inspector of Steam Boilers, states he rode out to Shawangunk one cold Sunday in February to test the boiler. He went on Sunday to accommodate the owners, as the mill was run night and day. He says the man in charge used him rudely, and said they would have to let their pipes freeze if he did it then; and added that they would send for him in three weeks. They never sent for him, and the boiler was not tested. The correct list of killed and wounded is as follows:


Peter Ostrander, liquor-mixer
Mary McLaughlin, cutter-tender
Eliza Conklin, cutter-tender
Patrick Tuey, straw-cutter feeder
W. B. Hill, boiler-tender
Michael Flannigan, tub-tender
Robert Owens, fireman

John Smalley, straw-room assistant
George Robinson, straw-room assistant
John Jansen, fireman


Justice of the Peace Joseph H. Titus empanelled a jury on Saturday night, who viewed the bodies and then adjourned till 9 o'clock this morning, Dr. Thomas Millspaugh, of Walden: Dr. Sillwell, of Dwaarskill, and Dr. Theodore Millspaugh, of Shawangunk, siding in the examination of the disfigured and mutilated remains.

The inquest of the mills is Mr. Israel B. Condit, who resides at Milborn, N. J. He has not yet arrived at the scene. The testimony thus far positively shows criminal carelessness.

Charles McLaughlin testified as follows: Saw the boiler before the explosion about 1:15 o'clock. It was leaking very badly. Had been leaking for some time. Was leaking worse than ever. Was leaking both liquor and steam. Has leaked ever since the mill started, more or less--which was in October last. Had been cracked, and was patched before the fire. Several around the mill had talked about the defective condition of the boiler. There was more talk about the other boilers exploding. The boiler had been used in the old mill before the building was burned down. There was an inspector there, but he never examined the boiler. Have heard from one of the men in the mill that the inspector made application to examine the boiler. From my knowledge of the boiler I did not consider it in a safe condition; its defects could be plainly seen by almost anybody. Had a conversation with Mr. Condit about its leaky condition. He said he would like to run it until he could get the new boiler in. The boiler leaked around the journals and at the rivets and in the seams. Mr. Tranter and I had a little trouble, and I gave him notice of two weeks that I would leave. In ten minutes more I would have been at the boiler. I was going to attend it that night. If my supper had not been a little late I would have been killed I suppose.

After more testimony had been taken the inquest was adjourned until Friday morning next, at 9 o'clock, when former employes[sic] of the mill, now residing in Newburg and in New Jersey, will be present to give their testimony.

The remains of Michael Flannigan, one of the victims of the explosion, were brought to this city this afternoon for interment. The funeral procession was halted by the Coroner as it was driving through the Village of Shawangunk, as the jurors had not yea viewed the remains of Flannigan, and the coffin was opened so that this ceremony could be performed. Ostrander was buried on Sunday.

Thousands of people from the surrounding country--from Newburg, Kingston, Poughkeepsie, and other places--visited the scene of the disaster on Sunday. There is an intense feeling of indignation in the village that the wretched boiler should have been kept in its place months after its condition was known to be dangerous. The three men who were injured are doing well. Robinson was the most seriously hurt of the three, and it was thought he could not recover, but his condition today is said to be more encouraging. Smiley and Jansen were severely scalded.

The New York Times, New York, NY 5 May 1874