Marseilles, IL Paper Mill Demolished, Dec 1869




Last Monday evening, at half past 4 o'clock, a most fearful accident occurred at Marseilles in this county, resulting in the destruction of J. P. Black's Paper Mills and the death of two employees therein, MRS. JAMES WILSON and MRS. J. McDONALD, and wounding several other persons.
The building was a most substantial structure, 120 feet long, 88 feet wide, with an ell nearly the same length and 16 feet wide. The main building was four and the ell three stories high. The walls were fourteen inches thick, of brick, and upon a firm rock foundation from eighteen inches to two and a half feet thick, and constructed under the supervision of Mr. J. M. BRATTON, especially with a view to strength and durability.

The Cause.
This building, thus so substantial in all its parts, was suddenly blown into fragments, and now, save a portion of the north wall, is a heap of ruins, a promiscuous mass of bricks, mortar, planks, beams, rafters and fragments, in every conceivable shape. All this fearful destruction was caused by the explosion of the "Rotary Bleach," an immense iron boiler. The Rotary Bleach is a new improvement in manufacturing paper, and within only a brief period has superseded the old tub or vat system of bleaching rags. This boiler was about twenty feet long, six feet in diameter, and made of five-eighths inch boiler iron, -- much thicker than those in use on the western steamers. This immense cylinder rested on two heavy journals, one at either end, and weighed about twelve tons. Its contents, water and rags and bleaching chemicals, weighed about six tons more, and were kept in a constant state of commotion by the revolutions of the boiler. Steam was discharged into this boiler at the ends, and in such quantity as to create a pressure of eighty to eighty-four pounds to each square inch of the boiler. This boiler had been previously tested in the manner usually adopted by manufacturers of steam engines and boilers, and was considered capable of safely enduring one hundred and twenty lbs. to a square inch. The boiler had been running several days at a similar rate of speed, and even under a greater force of steam, and had been running all day the day of this disaster. At half-past four this mammoth boiler suddenly, and of course without any premonition, exploded with a terrific noised and stupendous force, tearing the mill into atoms and burying ten or fifteen persons in its ruins, all of whom were more or less wounded.
The boiler was broken in two, nearly in the center, not squarely across, but in a jagged, seam, of prominent points and deep indentions. One-half of the boiler is probably beneath the rubbish in the basement of the building, having fallen through two floors, while the other portion was hurled with tremendous force westward, a distance of sixty feet, where it struck the ground and made a deep hole therein, then careened and pitched forward twenty feet further, and went through the eastern wall of the Cotton Mills. It now lies with about two feet of the head out and eight feet projecting into the basement of the Cotton Mill, nearly a hundred feet from its place of starting ! Such was the prodigious power which burst this heavy iron cylinder and hurled it this great distance. The head cap of the other portion of this bleacher was thrown a distance of three hundred feet from the place of the boiler, and buried in the ground, where it was found by Mr. Bowman, the artist, while putting his camera in position for a view of the ruins. This piece of iron alone weighed over two hundred lbs.

The explosion aroused the citizens, and at once stores were left wide open, shops deserted, offices abandoned and dwellings everywhere tenantless, and hundreds of men, women and children, crazed with excitement, rushed to the scene of the awful calamity. There had been twenty employees in the mill, chiefly women and young girls, and out of all employed in the ill-fated mill but few escaped unhurt, while two were killed outright.
One was MRS. WILSON, aged 30 years, the mother of five children. She was in the picking-room, 40 feet from the ground, and was found in the mill-race, in the water, face downward, six feet of debris upon her.
The other was found dead also. She was MRS. McDONALD, also employed in the picking-room. She was found near the west foundation, under three feet of brick and mortar. She also leaves a husband and one child. Both were wives of poor men, and were industrious, good and kind women; each leaving circles of true friends and surrounding neighbors.
The wounded were as follows:
MR. FITCH, thrown through the wall on the east side, across the mill-race to Tillsen's Mill, a distance of 75 feet, but, strange to say, was not seriously hurt.
MR. BELTON, foreman, wounded internally.
PETER DENGER, running the boiler, found himself beyond the west wall in the direction the boiler took. He was bruised and stunned, but not seriously damaged. Says he had 84 pounds of steam on, and the boiler will safely bear 120. The steam is discharged into the boiler, which holds six tons of rags, at both ends, and believes some gas must have suddenly been generated so as to cause the explosion. How he scientifically explains this is not known.
The foreman, HENRY LEWIS, was found under several feet of rags and mortar, about 30 feet from his standing place. He is internally hurt.
MRS. TOWNE had her breast-bone broken, and is otherwise injured.
MR. THRAPP had his knee fractured, and was bruised about the head and face.
MRS. THOMPSON, was badly bruised.
J. M. BRATTON, superintendent, was thrown through the scuttle, fell into the cellar and had his shoulder hurt. Part of the time since he has been incoherent. His wounds may prove fatal.
MR. FURGUSON, was seriously hurt. There were six cuts on his head, and he will probably lose an eye.
MRS. BROWN umped from the front window after the explosion, fearing fire, and was caught by MR. ADAMS, unhurt.
CHARLES HANCOCK, the foreman of the rag department, had a most narrow escape. He was standing within two feet of MRS. WILSON, who was killed at the time of the explosion. He was thrown down a distance of 50 feet, four stories and found himself on his feet buried to the waist in bricks, mortar, and other debris, and, after much difficulty, was released. When free, he pointed out the place where MRS. WILSON'S body might be found. After two hours' hard work she was found, face downward, eyes and mouth open, in the water, beneath brick, stone, and mortar six feet deep, in the place HANCOCK though she would be discovered.
JOSEPH HUPCHURCH was in the engine-room and was carried by the concussion of steam and gasses a distance of 20 feet, and landed on a table unhurt.
A. J. HENRY, working on derrick of an artesian well just being completed, was cut in the head and otherwise hurt. The derrick was adjoining the paper mill on its north-west corner. MR. WALLACE, engineer of the derrick, though brick and stones showered down, escaped without injury.
MISS LORING was so completely jammed in under fallen timbers, that her clothing had to be cut away before she could be extricated from her perilous position.
The women working in and about the rag rooms were MRS. R. J. BACON, MISS CAROLINE LORING, MISS NELLIE KELLOGG, MISS LUCRETIA KELLOGG and MRS. FRANZ. They escaped with little harm.
MRS. THOMPSON was seriously hurt; MRS. McDONALD, killed; MRS. FOWLER, shoulder blade broken; MRS. NOLAN, hurt about the shoulders; MISS MINNIE WARREN, seriously injured; MRS. WILSON, killed.
The mill is owned by J. P. Black, had just been completed, and cost, with machinery, $40,000. Insured against fire for $10,000.

The Ottawa Free Trader Illinois 1869-12-11