1864 Schuylerville Paper Mill Explosion
"A fearful boiler explosion" occurred in Schuylerville some 158 years ago, according to an 1864 issue of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper found in the permanent Serials Collection of The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library.
The newspaper article reports - and illustrates - the tragedy: "We give a sketch of the ruins of a paper mill at Schuylerville, destroyed by a fearful boiler explosion, on the 15th. A bleach boiler, 7 feet in diameter and 30 feet long, exploded, taking away the upper part of the paper mill, and passing through the post office, an oyster saloon and some other buildings in the course of its progress, killing a man and his wife. It did damage to the amount of $30,000."
The New York Times also took note, calling the explosion "one of the most destructive boiler accidents that ever occurred in this vicinity." It not only named the 2 victims (Mr and Mrs. Dwyer), but also added specifics to the boiler's destructive path, "taking a northerly course and passing through the following buildings" - the paper mill and its shed, Mr. Dwyer's shoe-store and house, Lane's saloon, Farley's tailor-shop, the Union Store, J. Henry's harness-shop, the Post-Office, Smith's jewelry-store. It estimated the damage to exceed $100,000, far greater than Frank Leslie's estimate.
The Schuylerville Paper Company, along Fish Creek, went on to be an important institution contributing to the growth of this Saratoga County village along the Hudson River. Originally established 1863, a year before the explosion, the mill was rebuilt, and in 1870, Daniel A. Bullard bought out his partners and continued to run it with his sons. By 1900 the company had become a major local business interest, producing 10 tons of book and news paper per day, and employing 35 workers.
In 1901, historian John Henry Brandow also recalls "the remarkable explosion" in his history of the local paper company: "About one o’clock at night a large rotary boiler used for cooking straw, etc, weighing tons, blew from its place like a rocket, burst through the building where it was confined, crashed through a house, then through another large building used as a store, then through a smaller store, and finally broke into the house Nos. 56-58 Broadway, yet standing where it landed. As a result this whole sieges of buildings were a heap of ruins. A man and his wife asleep in bed were killed instantly, and the boiler, with its end loaded with dry goods and other commodities, stopped at the side of a bed whereon lay another couple asleep."
Certainly a tragedy engrained in the historical documents, if not in the community's memory.
"Explosion of a Papermill at Schuylerville," Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, New York, March 12, 1864 (No. 441 - Vol XVII), p. 388.
New York Times, NY, NY, February 21, 1864, p. 3.
New Topographical Atlas of Saratoga Co., New York. Philadelphia: Stone & Stewart, Publishers, 1866.
The Story of Old Saratoga and History of Schuylerville, by John Henry Brandow. Saratoga Springs, NY: Robvson & Adee, 1901, p. 332-333
Todd DeGarmo is the founding director of The Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library in Glens Falls, NY, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. He's worked as a public sector folklorist and educator in various venues for over 42 years, and is the editor of Voices: Journal of New York Folklore. He lives in the upper Hudson Valley of Upstate New York, a stone's throw from the Battenkill near the Vermont border.