Alton, IL Powder Magazine Explosion, Jun 1840
EXPLOSION OF POWDER MAGAZINE
The most serious stirring-up the people of Madison county have experienced was occasioned not by an earthquake shock but by the explosion of the powder magazine at Alton, on the 20th of June, 1840. The explosion was described in the Alton Telegraph, by Judge Bailhache, as “incomparably louder and far more destructive than the discharge of a hundred pieces of the heaviest artillery.” The powder magazine was situated on the bluffs, a few rods west of the penitentiary, and contained at the time six tons of powder. Judge Bailhache writes: “To describe with some degree of minuteness the damage done by this explosion would require columns of our journal; suffice it therefore to remark that scarcely one single building within the thickly settled part of our city remains uninjured, and that some of those nearest the site of the magazine have been literally reduced to heaps of ruins; chimneys demolished, roofs started and nearly blown off, windows and frames shivered to atoms are among the results of the explosion. But although fragments of stone of which the magazine was built were hurled with resistless force in every direction, some of them to the distance of nearly a mile, perforating houses and overthrowing everything in their way, no life has been lost so far as our information extends, nor any serious injury done to the person of anyone.” The writer proceeds to narrate a series of hair-breadth escapes that were so remarkable as to be almost unbelievable.
The belief was universal that the explosion was the work of some villain, but for what object could not be conjectured. The offender, or offenders, were never discovered although the common council offered $500 reward for their apprehension. The damage done to buildings was estimated at over $25,000.
Centennial history of Madison County, Illinois, and its people, 1812 to 1912,
1914, page 222