From the Richmond Dispatch, 10/19/1894, p. 8, c. 1

The Tredegar-Works Blaze the Largest Here in Recent Years.
Much Machinery and a Number of Cars Injured or Destroyed – The Damage and Insurance.

A fortunate change of the wind and the effective work of the of the Richmond Fire Department were the only things that prevented the total destruction of the extensive and historical Tredegar Iron Works by fire that broke out there early yesterday morning, and was quite fully reported in the edition of the Dispatch issued an hour later.

As it was, the area devastated by the conflagration – several acres – was greater than on any similar occasion for the last ten years, and, in fact, since the famous Petersburg bridge fire.

The destroyed buildings extended along the river for about 500 feet, and all that is now left to tell the tale is a portion of their outer walls.


In all eight buildings were destroyed – the old car-framing house, three car-erecting shops, the horseshoe mill, stockhouse, blacksmith-shop, and scale-house, with scales capable of weighing thirty tons. These buildings were all brick, the horseshoe-mill having a frame shed in front.

The general impression is that the fire originated in the large boiler-house of the shoe-mill, a mishap that had occurred twice previously, but with no serious results.

By some strange misfortune the flames seemed to have made considerable headway before they were discovered. The alarm was sounded at 3:25 o’clock, but a Richmond and Danville engineer says he saw the buildings in a light blaze at 2:40 o’clock – just three quarters of an hour earlier. This agrees with the statements of the two police officers who were standing at the corner of Sixth and Main streets, who say they saw flames shooting from the buildings when the bells began to ring.


The private box of the company – 84 – was pulled in by Watchman Mosby, of the works, who says the flames were then well under way. He denies that any time was lost by the Tredegar Fire Department attempting to handle the blaze, and insists that the alarm was turned in before the men went to work. As soon as he returned from the box he ordered the two gates to the yards opened, that the apparatus might have easy access. By some oversight the Seventh-street gate remained closed, and the firemen had to batter it down.

The first alarm brought out Steamers 3, 7, and 4 and Truck 1. The two engines last named were put to work on the river bank, and the other at a plug inside the yard. Seeing what headway the flames were making Watchman Mosby at once pulled in the box a second time. In former days this would have brought out more apparatus, but under the present regime it is of no effect. In a few minutes Chief Puller was on the ground, and he immediately sent in a private signal for Steamers 5 and 6 and Truck 3. These two engines were put back to work – the first at a plug in the yard, and the other at the Seventh-street gate. There was little work for the trucks, so the members of the companies manned extra streams.


All the while the burning buildings were roaring like furnaces, a brisk southwest wind hastened the work of destruction. It looked as if the entire plant was doomed, and, as Chief Puller expressed it, he would not have given 15 cents for the entire works at this time.

The pertinacity with which the buildings burned was surprising. For several hours they literally seemed to spout fire. This was due to the fact that there were many huge wooden supports in them, some of them being as large as 2 feet square. Sparks flew as far as Pine-Street Baptist church. Gamble’s Hill was crowded with people, and was as light as day. The flames were reflected for many blocks, numerous buildings in the business district – notably the post-office – being brightly illuminated.
About this time there was a lull in the stiff breeze, and the firemen concentrated all the efforts on the moulding shop, which adjoined the framing shop. For hours this latter structure was a seething furnace, and the wall next to the moulding shed bulged out several feet, but did not fall.

The immense streams of water, however, served to prevent the spread of the flames, but seemed to have no power to quench them, so fiercely did they burn. About this time No. 3 Steamer was brought down to the race directly in front of the shop and began to deluge it with the assistance of several other engines, and by dint of steady pumping managed in course of time to absolutely flood it out. At daylight the fire was burning with a steady roar, and it was several hours later before it was subdued. Engine companies 6 and 7 remained on duty until 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon, as did Chief Puller, and when they departed two plug-streams were left to be used by the employees if necessary.

What the damage will be is hard to say. Necessarily everything was in a state of confusion yesterday, and all estimates were to a great extent conjectures.


In addition to the buildings, a great deal of valuable machinery was totally destroyed. A number of patterns, some of which had been in use for nearly fifty years, were ruined. Fortunately the more modern ones, and a large quantity belonging to the Chesapeake and Ohio were in another building and were uninjured. A great many of the workmen lost their individual tools. This is rather hard on them, as many of the implements cannot be purchased, but have to be made by the men themselves. About 20 men are thrown out of work temporarily. The car-shops had of late only been running on three-quarter time, but the horseshoe-mill was crowded with orders.

Superintendent Glasgow stated to a Dispatch man yesterday that no steps as to rebuilding had yet been taken. The blacksmith-shop and horseshoe-mill will have to be rebuilt at once, but there is no particular hurry about the car-shops.


Mr. Glasgow said that the insurance on the burned building was something over $80,000, which amount would not cover the loss.

A locomotive engine which had been sold to the United States Government to be used in the work of improving the James river was damaged past all use. Twenty box- and flat-cars were burned. Seven of these were the property of the Richmond and Danville railroad, two belonged to the Atlantic Coast Line, and the balance were owned by the Chesapeake and Ohio. Five more were damaged but can be repaired. Twenty cars built for use on sugar-cane plantations of Cuba were in the car-shops ready for shipment. They were all consumed.


The following insurance-policies are held by the Tredegar Company:

Liverpool and London and Globe      $66,000
Queen                                                       18,000
Georgia Home                                         18,000
Norwich Union                                         15,000
Royal                                                          11,000
London Assurance                                   7,500
Commercial Union                                 12,500
National, of Baltimore                               6,000
Scottish Union and National                   6,000
Virginia Fire and Marine                           5,500
Hamburg-Bremen                                     5,000
Virginia State                                              6,000
Sun Insurance Office                                4,000
Westchester                                               4,000
Hartford                                                       5,000
Phoenix, of Brooklyn                                 5,000
Underwriters                                              5,000
Lancashire                                                 5,000
National, of Hartford                                 5,000
Continental                                                 5,000
German-American                                    4,500
Insurance Co. of North America             4,500
Phoenix, of London                                   3,000
Delaware                                                    3,000
Glen’s Falls                                                3,000
British-America                                          3,000
Caledonian                                                 3,000
Aetna                                                           3,000
Fire Association                                        2,500
Lion                                                             4,000
Total                                                      $248,000

Mr. John H. Montague, of Montague & Co., through whom the insurance was placed, stated yesterday to a Dispatch man that the risks on the buildings burned aggregated $67,000, with a salvage of about $4,000, making $63,000. On this basis, he said, each company would have to pay about 25 percent, of the total amount of its policy.


The following letter was received yesterday afternoon by Chief W. G. Puller, of the Fire Department:
“Dear Sir, - Recognizing the efficient service of your force in circumscribing the limits of the fire at our works last night we enclose our check for $200, to be appropriated to any fund in existence for the benefit of officers and men belonging to the Fire Department of this city.

                                                                                                                                Very respectfully,
                                                                                                                                THE TREDEGAR COMPANY.
                                                                                                                                Archer Anderson, President.


Lieutenant Merridew, of Engine No. 4, was struck on the shoulder by bricks which fell from a wall, and, although painfully hurt, continued at work.

John Walters, hoseman of Engine No. 7, received a gash in the head from a piece of falling slate. His wound being dressed he resumed his position in the line despite the protestations of the Chief.

David O’Brien, engineer of No. 3, was down in a hole adjusting the suction-pipe when, in the confusion, a brother fireman fell through from above. The weight of his body striking the engineer fairly upon the back, sprained it. The engineer, although given leave to stop work, remained at his post.

An idea of the stiffness of the breeze which swept the fire on its destructive course may be obtained in the fact that the helmet worn by Fireman Frank Talley was whisked from his head into one of the burning buildings.

Go to top