Philadelphia, PA Factory Fire, Nov 1851


A most disastrous fire broke out in Philadelphia about 6 o'clock on Wednesday evening, in the large factory woned by MR. JAMES P. BRUNER, at the southwest corner of Nixon and Hamilton streets, near Fairmount, which resulted in a great destruction of property, and a terrible loss of life. We copy from The Philadelphia Sun:
"The destructive element spread with frightful rapidity, and in a short time the entire building presented a mass of roaring flames, that appalled the residents of the vicinity. The building was about 100 feet in length by 50 in width, and was four stories in height. At the time the fire was first discovered, there were not less than one hundred persons employed within its walls. They were mostly boys and girls. It is feared that a number of them were first suffocated, and their bodies thus fell an easy prey to the flames."
"The people outside were appalled, running to and fro in the wildest despair, endeavoring to relieve the terrified inmates of the doomed edifice. The fire first broke out in the south end of the second story, near the stairway, and thus at the very commencement the retreat of those in the upper stories was entirely cut off. Their only chance of escape was through the windows, and numbers of them availing themselves of those apertures leaped into the street. Several of them were caught by the spectators of the horrifying scene, and were borne away apparently lifeless. Others were less fortunate, and were badly injured."
"One man, named JOHN BROWNING, who was employed on the fourth story, leaped from the window, and broke both of his legs and both arms. He was immediately picked up and carried home. Another man, named WILLIAM McCOOMBS, also sprang from the third story window and broke one of his legs. He was borne away by firemen and citizens. The most horrible part of the affair is that two dead bodies were dragged from the burning building, a man and a young woman. The man is supposed to be EDWARD CROSSLY, an Englishman by birth, who has left a wife and infant. The other body is supposed to be that of MISS MARY ANN BROWNING, the daughter of MR. B., who fractured his limbs by springing from the window."
"A girl named EMILY WILLIAMSON, aged 16 years, was missing up to half past nine o'clock last evening. When last seen she was in one of the upper stories of the building. In fact, there were eleven boys and girls at work in the third story, and not one of them had been found up to the hour above mentioned. The most painful apprehensions were entertained by the relatives and friends of the employees of the establishment, up to the time we left the heart-rending, soul-sickening scene. The dead bodies of the men and women were taken to office of Alderman THORNLEY, but they were so horribly burnt, that it was really impossible to recognize them."
"We saw the half-distracted MRS. CROSSLY there, weeping and moaning over the charred remains of her supposed husband, whilst the cries and sobs of an aged aunt fell in mournful accents on our ears, as she beheld the blackened corpse of her supposed niece."
"The greatest excitement prevailed among the people, and horrible stories were freely circulated, but many of them, of course, could not be relied on. Half frantic fathers and mothers could be seen vainly searching for their children; nothing but ruin on the one side, and mental anguish on the other, could be observed."
"During the scene when the excitement incident to such an occasion was raging at its highest pitch, four boys escaped from the fourth story window by sliding down a rope. One of the little fellows had the skin and flesh stripped from his hands, in consequence of letting himself down the rope too swiftly. One of the little boys informed us last evening that MARY ANN BROWNING and her father were in the same story, and that the girl rushed down stairs, and it is probable that her body was found at the foot thereof. The father sprang from the window."
"The building was owned by JAMES P. BRUNER, and worth perhaps eight or ten thousand dollars. We learn that he had an insurance of $5000 on it. He occupied the fourth and upper, or half-story, and had on hand a large amount of valuable machinery and stock. We are informed that he had an insurance of $5000 on the machinery."
"The lower story was occupied by MESSRS. HOFFNER & LEWIS, machinists, who had been there but a short time."
"The second story was occupied by JAMES and DAVID DONLEY, carders and yarn spinners. They were insured to the amount of $3,000 -- so we are informed."
"The third story was in the occupancy of BERNARD McNUTT, who had a number of valuable looms in successful operation, for the purpose of fancy weaving, in cotton and wool. His property was valued at $6,000, on which he had an insurance of $4,000."
"The whole loss is estimated at from $30,000 to $35,000."
P.S. -- The dead bodies have been identified. One is that of EDWARD CROSSLY, and the other, that of MARY ANN BROWNING, who was recognized by her teeth.

The New York Times New York 1851-11-14