Sturtevant Factory Building Destroyed by Fire

The R.F. Sturtevant Company

The R.F. Sturtevant Company

Jamaica Plain was visited by one of the most disastrous fires in its history early yesterday morning. It was in the extensive blower works of the R.F. Sturtevant Company, a three-story brick building covering a large area off Green St. and extending down nearly to the Jamaica Plain Station of the Providence Division of the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad.

The alarm from box 511, at 2:58, was followed by a third and fourth in quick succession, the second being omitted.  So rapidly did the fire spread that the large main structure was one mass of flames within a few minutes after the fire was discovered. The concern manufactures various kinds of machinery and electrical goods as well as blowers.  Everything contained in the building, consisting of valuable stock and machinery, was totally destroyed.  One new planer not yet set up was valued at $4800, and this was a fair sample of the sort of property lost.

In the rear of the building destroyed was the big stable containing 28 horses.  This at one time was threatened, and the horses were removed to a place of safety.  After a half-hour’s hard work on the part of the firemen this building was saved. Extending back from the main building and connected with it were the boiler and engine room, the pipe shop and foundry.  These buildings were saved by great effort on the part of the firemen.

The fire is supposed to have started in the third story of the building known as the electrical department, next to the engine house.  At the time Hugh J. McMullen, the watchman, was on the third floor.  So rapidly did the flames extend that he had difficult work in making his escape.

All Over the Building

From here the fire seemed to shoot throughout the structure, and by the time the first stream was throwing water, the entire building was a seething cauldron.  Suddenly a terrific explosion occurred and the roof fell with a crash, sending up a mass of burning embers that came down in showers over an immense area.

The fire literally burned itself out.  All that is left of the big building are the walls and a smoldering pile of bent and twisted iron and bricks.  About 650 men will be thrown out of work. Estimates of the loss vary from $275,000 to $400,000. The company was fully insured, the policies having been renewed last week.  The risk was placed mostly in English companies, and is in the neighborhood of $500,000.

When the building was moved back three years ago from the railroad track, one story was added.  In this part of the structure the dynamo and electrical plant was situated. The building, occupied by R.S. Barrows as an insurance office, was threatened at one time, as were several buildings at the other side of Stony Brook, which is directly in the rear of the works. Crowds lined the platform of the railroad station, watching the destruction of the big building and house tops and windows were thickly peopled, wherever a vantage point could be had.

Watchman’s Peril

A reporter visited watchman McMullen at his home, 111 Call St., Jamaica Plain, yesterday morning, and found him in bed suffering from nervous shock and the result of having inhaled smoke. "After going over half of the building adjoining the one burned," he said, "I saw the light in the third floor, or electrical department.  I went to investigate and found a fire burning briskly there on the southwesterly side of the room.  I got a pail of water and threw it on the fire and started to get another when there was an explosion, and immediately the fire increased to such an extent and was followed by such dense smoke that I had great difficulty in reaching the stairway."

"The elevator well was near that stairway, and as I could not see anything on account of the smoke, and being afraid that I might fall to the basement through the well, I dropped on my hands and knees and crawled along the floor the entire length of the room.  In this way I reached the stairs at the north side of the building, and managed to descend to the second floor and thence to the first floor to the vestibule of the office."

"I went out, intending to pull an alarm from the box on Green St.  There was no fire alarm signal box in the building, but there is a special box, 511, located on the outside of the building near Union Ave., which I could not reach on account of the fire. I met a policeman when I got outside of the building and asked him if he had pulled an alarm.  He said an alarm had been sounded, as the engines were upon the scene and a line of hose was being laid.  I did not lose consciousness, but I was somewhat dazed. In a short time Supt N.B. Chamberlain of the blower works arrived, and, with him, I went back into the office and we saved some of the correspondence."

As to the Start

"The fire was burning over the floor when I saw it.  I think it started in drip pan near some barrels, which I believe contained alcohol and varnish.  There was sawdust on the floor in that room, and the only way I can account for the fire is spontaneous combustion."

Supt. Chamberlain was seen at his residence, 11 Burr St., Jamaica Plain. He said, "As yet we have no theory as to the cause of the fire. Our resources are such that we shall be able to continue our business with but slight interruption. I have conceived a plan of a new building which, if it meets with the approval of Eugene M. Foss, the manager and treasurer of the company, who is at present at Hot Springs, Virginia, but who is expected to leave for home tonight, will probably be built immediately." 

"I shall go to work this morning and clean out the engine pit and get ready to start up the other departments of the works not destroyed. The buildings not destroyed are: a foundry measuring 200 by 125 feet; a three-story building measuring 165 by 50 used for the building of heaters, sheet iron work, etc.; a building measuring 90 by 90 used for the manufacture of sheet iron blowers; another 75 by 50 building, two stories high; a three-story building measuring 40 by 90; another building measuring 100 by 90 used for storage and shipping; and a three-story stable measuring 75 by 50, all connected."

"The firemen did well to stop the progress of the flames as they did.  We had but recently added about $75,000 worth of tools and machinery, and we had a large amount of electrical work ready for shipment."

For U.S. Battleships

"We also had a large number of engines and blowers for the government, to be used on battleships and cruisers in course of construction in various ports of the country, nearly completed, all of which are destroyed. We employ about 650 hands, all of whom will be temporarily thrown out of employment." 

"The business was started by B.F. Sturtevant in 1864 and was located then at 72 and 84 Sudbury St., at which location we were burned out in 1875.  The present plant was established at Jamaica Plain about 24 years ago. Mr. Sturtevant died in April, 1889, and since that time the business has been conducted by his son-in-law, Mr. Foss."

William Bently, a machinists’ helper, who lives at 23 Union Ave. and is in the employ of the Sturtevant Company, said he heard the alarm from box 511.  "I dressed and ran into the street," he continued, "just as the engines arrived, and then the whole upper portion of the building was in flames.  Very soon there was an explosion, the roof went into the air, and the whole building seemed to burst into flame from top to bottom.  The rapidity with which the fire spread was surprising."

Sounded the Alarm

Ernest J. Sackrison, the young man who sounded the first alarm, was seen at his home at 43 Union Ave., which is directly in the rear of the destroyed building. He was awakened by his mother.  He quickly dressed and ran to box 511 and pulled in the alarm. "When I saw it," he said, "the whole of the third floor of the building was ablaze, and the flames were darting out of all the windows.  When the engines arrived the entire three floors of the building were a seething mass."

From the Boston Daily Globe, April 15, 1901