From the Richmond Examiner, 5/16/1863
GREAT CONFLAGRATION – DESTRUCTION OF THE CRENSHAW WOOLEN FACTORY BY FIRE – SERIOUS DAMAGE TO THE TREDEGAR IRON WORKS. – We regret to have to announce this morning one of the most serious conflagrations that has afflicted Richmond for several years, involving not only loss of private property to the amount of half a million or more, but a short delay in the supply of some kinds of war munitions, the manufacture of which has been interrupted, we learn, only temporarily.
The conflagration originated about two o'clock yesterday morning, in the Crenshaw Woolen Factory, a brick structure of five stories front, and six in the rear, situated in the midst of the buildings composing the Tredegar Iron Works, on the James, between the canal and the river.
The factory was built about seven years ago for Messrs. Crenshaw & Haxall as a flouring mill, but about the commencement of the war the machinery for the manufacture of cloth was substituted by an association under the style of the "Crenshaw Woolen Factory," and the same went into operation quite extensively. The factory was worked at night, and the fire is supposed to have originated from fire engendered during the night in the picker room, which was on the second floor. The firm are said to have had three watchmen on the second floor of the building, but so rapid was the spread of the flames, that a young man named Carey in the building, barely escaped with his shoes and part of his clothing in his hand. So combustible was the nature of the refuse, oil and wool, that fed the spark, that the flames leaped almost instantly through the range of stories, and burst roaring from the windows before the alarm could be sounded by the Tredegar bell. Mr. W. F. Tanner, the general superintendent of the Tredegar Works, was at his residence on Third street, between Canal and Byrd, when the alarm rang, and knowing the bell, he hastened down. The rolling mill was in operation, and the workmen were turned out with buckets to protect the surrounding buildings, from the midst of which rose the Crenshaw factory, now a pyramid of flame, and showering down, with the power of a volcanic eruption, thousands of blazing flakes and cinders upon the roofs of the shops. The flames were too hot and contiguous for the shops to withstand, and first communicated to the locomotive and engine shops, situated on the West, and right beneath the burning factory; the pattern shop, and boring and lathing shops on the East, the blacksmith shop on the South, and other contiguous buildings. Two of the locomotive shops, the pattern shop, one boiler shop, the boring shop, and two foundry shops were destroyed; but the foundry in operation on the West, the new blacksmith quarters, and the new foundry building on the East, and not yet occupied, were saved. The boiler shop was not burned, and the boilers for the new gunboats are uninjured. – A large quantity of gun carriages and finished material, all the patterns, and about fifteen thousand feet of lumber, stored above the pattern shop, were consumed. A number of cannon in the boring and finishing shops burned are believed not to have been damaged to an extent to effect their efficacy or value. Two of the celebrated Brooke guns had their bands a little loosened, but were yesterday adjudged good as ever. They will be immediately finished at the Government works. - The new shot and shell that underwent the ordeal of the heat is not thought to be damaged in the least, as it was packed up in conical piles, and the heat did not reach beyond the outer tier. The great loss is in the machinery, some of which, if destroyed would be irreparable; but the inspection of the most of it yesterday, lying among the ruins, indicated the gratifying fact that much of it will be saved in a slightly damaged condition. The machinery that underwent the greatest heating was the valuable lathes and other delicate mechanism in the boring and finishing departments, as the lumber consumed was stored above them and the pattern shops; but we have the greatest satisfaction of announcing that much of it will be saved intact.
The Crenshaw Woolen Factory was burned completely out, the floors from the fifth story falling down one upon the other, and crashing to the foundations, with its tons of valuable machinery imported from the North about two years ago. There was but little manufactured material in the factory, as it was removed as soon as it was prepared; but there was considerable raw material, such as wool and cotton, on hand, not one pound of which was saved, nor was there time to attempt it. The roof also fell in early, and it was its weight, and the weight of the machinery, that carried the floors down. The walls which were very strong and girded, remained standing throughout yesterday. The loss of the Crenshaw Woolen Company is variously estimated. The machinery, though it cost less originally, could not now be replaced for one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, while the building which was owned by the association, was valued at twenty thousand dollars. They are insured, but to what amount, or in what offices, we have not been informed.
In regard to the Tredegar Works, the disaster, although serious, has, by no means, stopped operations in the department uninjured. Yesterday, amid the wreck and ruin around, the roar and rattle of the busy wheels of the foundry and other shops could be heard, and the workmen were as busy as ever, though less in number, others were employed in clearing out the debris, and gathering the machinery and tools from the ruins. Hammers, too, were busy in repairs, and we have the assurance of General J. R. Anderson for stating that but a few days will be suffered to elapse before operations are resumed in most of the suspended departments. The new foundry and boring mill, the latter of which was very slightly burned, can be occupied temporarily by the other departments. In fact, the resources of the firm are such, that actually no delay whatever will occur in the furnishing of munitions of war, contracted for by the Confederate Government at these works. – What might, therefore, have been a serious national calamity, is a drawback which falls upon and is borne alone by private individuals. There are numerous insurances on the buildings destroyed, and some little on the stock, in the following offices: Mutual Assurance Society, Richmond Fire Association, Virginia Fire and Marine Company, Old Dominion Fire Insurance Company, Merchants Insurance Company, Alabama Insurance Company of Montgomery. The aggregate insurance will not approximate the loss, which will not fall under half a million dollars.
The Messrs. Crenshaw & Co. hold policies of insurance upon their building, stock and machinery in the following offices for the annexed amounts: - Richmond Fire Insurance, $10,000; Insurance Company State of Virginia, $10,000; Augusta Insurance and Banking Company, $10,000; Old Dominion Insurance Company, $5,000; Merchant's Insurance Company, $10,000; Fire and Merchants' Company of Petersburg, $5,000; James River Company, $5,000; Lynchburg Hose and Fire Company, $7,000, Valley of Virginia Insurance Company, $10,000; Petersburg Savings Insurance Company, $5,000; Jefferson Insurance Company (Scottsville) $5,000; Alabama Insurance Company, $5,000; Lynchburg Fire, Life and Marine Insurance Company, $5,000; Danville Insurance Company, $5,000; Selma (Ala.) Insurance and Trust Company, $10,000; Elmore Mutual Insurance Company, (Charleston, S. C.) $10,000; Eufaula Insurance Company, $10,000; Georgia House Insurance Company, $10,000; Wetampka (Ala.) Insurance Company, $10,000; Southern Insurance Company, (Savannah) $10,000; Alabama Insurance Company, $10,000. Total amount of insurance, $171,500.
We have heard several statements as to the origin of the fire and the appliances at hand for its suppression, but the following appear to have been the real state of the facts: The picker was in operation, and the man in attendance, finding some part of the machinery wanted oiling, stepped into an adjoining room to get the oil can; and, in his absence, it is supposed a nail or some piece of metal was fed into the picker and produced by its friction a spark, which ignited the combustible material. When he returned the material around the picker was ablaze, and it is said the hands at work were so terrified that they failed to give the alarm for some moments, and when they did alarm the watchman he attempted to set the force pumps in motion, but failed on account of the derangement of a screw. The workmen then saved themselves by flight, and the flames being left to spread, invaded the stories in succession, and before the workmen got well out of the building the sheets of fire were bursting from the windows. The firemen, when they arrived, which was after some time had elapsed, were powerless to effect any headway against the flames, owing to the great height of the factory, and accordingly directed their streams upon the surrounding property of the Tredegar Works. Forty pieces of manufactured cloth, about fifteen hundred yards, valued at twenty-five thousand dollars, and thirty thousand pounds of wool were consumed in the factory. The Messrs. Crenshaw & Co. do not regard their insurance as covering their loss by any means. Their machinery is fit only for old iron, and cannot be replaced in the South.
We learned last evening some additional particulars of the damage to the Tredegar Works, which put a still better face upon it. A large number of old patterns were destroyed, but the new gun patterns were all saved. The portion of the works destroyed consisted of a part of the machine shops, blacksmith shops, and one of the buildings in which gun carriages were finished. Those saved are the old and new foundries for casting the machinery for boring great guns, and all their appurtenances; the spike factory, and the foundries for casting shot and shell and railroad car wheels. All the ordnance on hand is safe. Operations will be fully resumed in a few weeks.
The presence of the Crenshaw woolen mills in the midst of the Tredegar works, has been nothing less than a magazine since the day the building was first devoted to its late uses. Now that it is removed by one of those calamities that ever threaten such establishments, common sense, if not more potent agencies, would dictate that it should never replace itself on the same site, to subject the property adjacent to still more thorough destruction. There are many thousand brick in the still upright walls of the factory that would be valuable in replacing some of the Tredegar shops destroyed, and in rendering them more invulnerable to conflagrations from without. We are not sure that General Anderson or the directors of the Tredegar works ever entertained apprehensions of the accident which has just occurred, but we simply throw out the suggestion as it occurred to us after reviewing the combustible nature of the fabrics used in the factory, and its unnecessary proximity to works of a more nation importance, and to which no accidents of a like character could really occur without great carelessness, and some such mishap as took place yesterday morning.