Springfield, MA Armory Fire, Jul 1864


The Old Forging Shop Destroyed---Loss not More than $50,000---No Suspension of Work in Consequence.

From the Springfield Republican, July 4.

Fire was discovered in the attic of the "old forging shop" at the United States Armory in this city about 8¾ o'clock Saturday evening, the point where it was noticed being about forty feet from the chimney at the west end of the shop. As soon as it was known to the workmen in the second story of the shop some of them rushed upstairs and emptied some water-pails; which were always kept there, upon the flames; but they had made too much head-way to be stopped so easily, and quickly burst out of the scuttles in the roof. Knowing how inflammable was the wood work of the shop, and finding themselves powerless to put out the fire, the workmen considered their own safety, and left the rooms as fast as possible. The alarm was given vigorously upon the hill, but some time elapsed before it reached Main street, and then the City Hall bell had rung but a minute before it was stopped more than ten minutes, to give the clock a chance to strike 9. Luckily, the firemen were promptly at their engines, though the alarm was sufficient, and considering the distance the down-town machines had to go,, made commendable time in reaching the scene of the fire. Meantime the [ineligible] machines were hard at work, but by doing their best, and they worked bravely, could not prevent the spread of the flames. The benches and floors were so completely saturated with oil that it seemed almost impossible to conquer the fire. It spread in both directions from the place it was discovered, with the greatest rapidity. Going west and reaching the end of the old shop, it communicated to the new L and burned it completely out. But its eastern progress was watched with the most solicitude. The long line of shops extending to Federal-street, and the long carpenters' and machine shop parallel, with Federal-street, were threatened, as well as the other long line of shops running north and south, and in the centre of which are the offices. To stop the fire from spreading further east than the polishing shop was to save the others and to secure this end the firemen worked heroically. Besides the Government steamer, the Union, and the two down-town steamers, the Monitor and the Constitution, two hand engines and a stream sent by one of the solitary engines in the shops, were all played upon the fire, all the streams but one upon this particular point. Fewer would not probably have checked it, but so many did. The efficiency of the firemen cannot be too highly commended, as it saved a large and important part of the Government works from destruction. The fire made thorough work, however, where it did burn, cleaning out everything inside the shops that was inflammable, but leaving the walls standing.

Some of the machinery in the old shop destroyed was removed, but the larger part had to remain. A good deal of the machinery in the machine and some of the other shops was also removed, when the conflagration threatened to go on unchecked and most of it is but little damaged. While a workman named E. D. Kane, was helping to do this, he was considerably injured in the back by falling against one of the machines, John Ingersoll, son of the paymaster, was struck in the side by a box that was thrown out of one of the windows, but his injuries are not of a serious nature. Other than theses, no accidents of consequence occurred during the whole time.

The place where the fire was finally checked was about two hundred feet from the west end of the old shop, and the L connected with the west end, which was also destroyed, was 85 feet long. In the rooms contained in the two, about 150 hands were employed by day and 50 by night. The forging was formerly done here, but the shop has of late been given to "general work," although it is in the milling department, under the charge of William G. Chamberlin. The "general work" includes polishing, milling, filling, case-hardening., tempering and screw-making, drilling and a few other, but minor branches. The first story of the old shop was erected in 1846, the second and the attic having been recently added. The L, however, is comparatively new, as it was erected only about a year and a half ago. This is the first large fire which has occurred at the armory since March, 1824.

The cause of the fire has given rise to much speculation, but it was undoubtedly spontaneous combustion. The dust from the emery wheels used in the polishing room, which was in the second story, is almost as excitable as powder, and a small fire in the same attic was discovered some two months ago, in season to put it out with a pail of water. The dust rose to the attic through cracks in the floor, and there was not more than the depth of a sixteenth of an inch upon the floor at that time. The scuttles in the roof were open Saturday night, to let ventilation in for the workmen, and the condition of the atmosphere was particularly favorable to spontaneous combustion, as the emery "goes off" at no time so easily as when the little dampened. The aggregate loss was likewise speculated upon and rather wildly, the figures being estimated from $40,000 to $800,000. The opinion of those best qualified to judge places it at about $50,000. There is no insurance, as the Government don't do that thing. None of the workmen met with any loss of consequence, except Ammon Moore, whose chest of tools, worth about $150, was destroyed. The fire will cause but trifling suspension of work at the armory, and few if an workmen will be thrown out of employment. a temporary shop will be at once provided for the polisher. No other shops in the armory could be burned causing so much loss, without producing more delay, and more disarrangement of the different departments. These are so nicely adjusted that an order was issued Saturday, before the fire, to suspend work until Thursday morning, on account of the lowness of the water shops pond all of the shops shutting down to prevent an undue "balance of power" in any. This reason why no work will go on till Thursday is not, therefore, the fire of Saturday evening.

When the situation appeared critical, telegrams were sent to the chief engineers of the fire departments of Worcester, Hartford and New-Haven, calling for immediate assistance. The response was all that could have been asked. At Hartford, two steamers were loaded on the cars and 200 men were ready to accompany them and at New-haven they were also ready with a steamer and 1,000 feet of hose, when a dispatch was sent that their services were not required. Worcester failed to receive it, and an engine and 2,000 feet of hose, both well manned, arrived from there about midnight. This promptness on the part of our sister cities is appreciated, and if the time should ever come when the Springfield fire department in needed in any of them, just give the word.



SPRINGFIELD, ARMORY, Sunday, 12M., July 3, 1864.

To the Editor of the Republican:

Knowing that you are desirous of giving the public a correct account of the fire which occurred at this armory last night, I take the liberty of furnishing you with what I believe to be a correct statement of facts:

The fire originated about half-past 8 o'clock in the attic of the polishing-shop, and spread with great rapidity in both directions. The polishing-shop, which was about 280 feet long, 32 feet wide, and two stories high, was destroyed with his machinery, and a small quantity of components for muskets in various stages. Forty-seven machines belonging to the milling-shop, were considerably injured, and the temporary forges for springs were destroyed. The total loss will not, in my opinion, exceed $50,000. The product of the armory will be considerably diminished during the next two months, but I have no hesitation in saying that this diminution will be made good during the following four months of this year. The only drawback to the immediate production of the full complement of muskets, will occasioned by the want of facilities for polishing some of the parts. This want can be supplied within one month.

The progress of the fire was so rapid that it threatened to destroy the whole building, which contained the machine shop and a large quantity of valuable machinery, but through the unceasing exertions of the fire companies it was mastered.

Every assistance which could have been asked was promptly and cheerfully rendered by the citizens of Springfield and its fire companies, and I beg to express through you to them, and to the fire companies of Hartford, New-Haven and Worcester, my sincere thanks for the prompt and valuable assistance which was proffered and rendered.

Very respectfully, you obedient servant,
A. B. DYER, Major Commanding.

The New York Times, New York, NY 10 Jul 1864