Neponset, MA Cotton Works Fire, Mar 1870



(From the Boston Post, March 3.)
Yesterday witnessed a catastrophe that deprived six poor women of their lives and rendered six families desolate of a mother. It occurred in the Sixteenth Ward, or what was formerly known as Granite Bridge, Neponset. At this place was situated a number of buildings known as McBride's Drying Works, owned and occupied as cotton drying works by George McBride. The buildings were seven in number, connected together in such a manner as to facilitate the work. The section destroyed was in the form of a 'T', the top being a building 50 x 39, used as a sorting room, in which the cotton was placed on racks to dry. The heat necessary for drying was furnished by 10,000 feet of one-inch steam pipes laid between the floors. These buildings were of wood, a story and one-half high. The others consisted of a one story store-house, small engine house, &c. The number of operatives varied according to the amount of work. At times there have been as many as thirty or forty employed, but yesterday the number was small, consisting of three men and six women. The men were at work in the lower story and the women in the upper story, or the sorting room before described. The origin of the fire is unknown, and probably will forever remain a mystery. The men were first aware of its presence about ten o'clock by the smoke which filled their apartment, and instantly seeking its cause discovered the fire breaking out from one corner of the arm of the 'T', or the sorting room. Of course all the efforts which could possibly be made were instantly put forward to rescue the women; but the majority of them must have been suffocated before the fire was discovered.

Only one was visible after that time, and she quickly disappeared as the devouring flames, finding the best of fuel in the well dried wood, swept through the windows, encircled the roof and passed on to the drying house, which fed an easy prey to the strong body of blaze behind it. Nothing could be done for the unfortunate women; the heat repelled all advances, and small need was there of an attempt, for there was not a single chance of finding life in the building after the flames appeared at the windows. A half hour had elapsed and the burning pile was mostly consumed before the fire engines made an appearance. Heavy streams deluged the ruins and subdued the heat so as to render search for the bodies practicable. One could hardly imagine, on viewing the spot, that the charred space of ground, eighty by fifty feet, had so lately been covered with structures and busy life. Nothing would indicate it, unless we except the multitude of steam pipes which once laid between the floors but now are entirely exposed. The relatives of the persons known to have been in the flames encircled the ruins, with what feelings can be imagined better than described. The finding of the remains occupied but a few moments. Six charred stumps, with nothing to indicate the one from the other, were all that remained of the female operatives. They were not in the shape of human bodies, but an examination gave evidence that such was the fact. The names of the parties are:

MRS. PETER MARTIN, of Neponset.
MRS. THOMAS HURLEY, of Neponset.
MRS. P. KENNEDY, of Neponset.
MRS. CONNIFF, of Glover's Corner.

All of them leave husbands living, and all of them have families of either one or two children. The deceased were mostly middle aged women. The bodies were finally placed in the receiving tomb in the Garden Cemetery, immediately adjoining the premises. Here they will remain until turned over to the charge of their relatives.

A jury of inquest was immediately convened, Robert Yost acting as coroner. Testimony was then taken, but none was given which would solve the mystery concerning the origin of the fire. A verdict was returned death by fire, &c., "cause unknown."

The loss is estimated at $10,000, the buildings destroyed costing about $5,000. The entire insurance amounts to $6,000, distributed in six different offices of $1,000 each. There was a considerable stock of cotton on the premises, of which only a few shreds remain.

New York Herald 1870-03-04