Delaware County Daily Times from Chester, Pennsylvania on November 23, 1963 · Page 26
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Delaware County Daily Times from Chester, Pennsylvania · Page 26

Chester, Pennsylvania
Issue Date:
Saturday, November 23, 1963
Page 26
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THIS WAS the historic Porter Mansion before the ex- Vicksburg, was born in this house in 1813. plosion. Admiral David D. Porter, the Civil War hero of Explosion Gave Birth to Hospital By ARDEN SKIDMORE Daily Times Staff Writer The 17th of February is a date Chester's volunteer firefighters always remember. It was on that date 81 years ago that eight of their members and 11 others lost their lives in the Jackson Fireworks Explosion. Fifty-seven were injured in the worst calamity to hit the Chester Fire Department in its long history. As a direct result of the disaster, Chester Hospital w a s born. "The firemen killed in the Jackson explosion were the only Chester firemen ever, actually killed in a fire," said State Assemblyman Thomas H. Worrilow of Chester, a veteran member and former president of Moya- mensing Hook Ladder Company for many years. "There have been men killed responding to fire in traffic accidents and other men have collapsed and died at fires but none except these as a direct fire casualty," Worrilow added. There have been firemen killed from other companies in the county. 'Block Friday' The Chester firemen killed on that "Black Firday" of an era when Chester had no hospitals were William Wood, Alexander Phillips, William H. Franklin, Thomas Anderson, William McNeal, Anthony J. (Tony) Barber, John Pollock, and Cornelius (Neal) McDade. Five were from the Franklin Fire Company, two from t h e Hanley Hose Company, and one from Moyamensing Hook Ladder Company. McDade didn't die until almost three years after the tragedy-on Sept. 5, 1884, to be exact- but the fire companies remember him each Feb. 17 in memorial services for the victims of the explosion. . McDade, who was wounded in the head and hovered near death for several days, recovered. But his eventual death was attributed to the blast. He thus became the 19th victim. Accounts of the disaster for a good many years have stated that only firemen--18 of them-were killed. Somehow, those accounts became twisted. For instance, two children only 11 and 12 years of age were among those killed. Three others were young boys. Three persons watching the fire from a 4A--November 23, 1963 distance were killed by a thunderous shower of stone a n d debris. More convincingly, the firemen themselves list only eight of their members as victims in the memorial service which is rotated among the five companies on a yearly basis and is taken to a different church. The site marker of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission was placed about 10 feet from the curb on the north side of East 2nd Street, midway between Welsh and Crosby Streets. To the rear of the marker is the Sanitary Products Building of the Scott Paper Co. Across the street is Scott's shipping warehouse. The marker reads: GREEN BANK Name given to house built on this site in 1721 by David Lloyd. At one time it was the home of Admiral Porter and Commodore Porter with whom Admiral morning, is always a ready topic of conversation -among firemen because of a false report involved in the calamity. Firemen had been told that all dangerous gunpowder and other explosives had been removed from the building. Otherwise, there might not have been any loss of life. The twin disasters fell on the city like thunderbolts. Men who went to their work in health on the morning of Feb. 17 lay cold as marble or burnt to cinder before the sun was two hours high. In addition to the dead, scores were maimed, crippled, and scarred. The great tragedy occurred at "The Jackson Pyrotechnical Manufactory," operated by Professor Samuel Jackson in the historic old, stone Porter Mansion at the foot of Welsh Street on the Delaware River. The fire alarm at City Hall sounded at 7:30 a.m. Minutes of the Franklin Company reveal that the Franklin steamer was first on the scene, took the plug at 2nd and Market Streets and immediately went into service. After working about half an hour, a second minor explosion occurred. Chief Engineer Dolton then approached young Van Horn and demanded to know if all explosives were out of the building. He was assured that they were. The chief told Van Horn: "If you are lying, I will take my men away, but if you are telling me the truth, I will have the fire put out." Reassured there was no danger from explosives, the chief then ordered the firefighting resumed with renewed vigor. Several firemen were on ladders. Out of Delco's Past Farragut often visited. Razed in Feb. 1882 by "Jackson Explosion.' Successive Days When Chester's firemen talk of the great fire disasters their thoughts turn immediately to the Jackson explosion and the Pennsylvania Military College blaze, which occurred on successive days. They have had many back-to- back alarms over the years but there was nothing to match these. The Hanley Hose Company's horse - drawn steamer became mired in the mud before it could reach the towering fire in the Old Main Administration building at PMC -- then known as Pennsylvania Military Academy. The Franklin firemen had to pull their steamer, and they were exhausted. There was never a chance of saving the educational edifice, which burned to the ground in about four hours beginning at 5 p.m. on Thursday Feb. 16. No lives were lost in this one. Told Powder Out The Jackson explosion, which occurred about 8:20 the next The Porter Mansion, called "Green Bank," was built by Chief Justice David D. Lloyd in 1721 and was purchased by Maj. William Anderson in 1806. It was the residence of David Porter, son-in-law of Major Anderson and father of Admiral David D. Porter, the Civil War hero of Vicksburg. Admiral Porter was born in the house in 1813. In 1882, a part of the mansion was being used by Prof. Jackson for the manufacture of fireworks and railroad fuses. Prof. Jackson had been in the fireworks business for 20 years. Another portion of the mansion was occupied by Mrs. Ann Blackson and a married daughter. IVoi in Factory Prof. Jackson was not in the factory at the time. A young man named Charles H. Van Horn was in charge. Mrs. Blackson and her daughter hustled out of the building at the first detection of fire. Most accounts of the disaster agree that there were two minor explosions and then a tremendous third blast "which apparently swept everything before it." In about 15 minutes came the shattering, death-dealing explosion. Mass of Debris A great mass of stone and debris shot from the building and smashed onto people and homes in the area of 2nd and Welsh Streets. Huge gaps were torn in the north and south walls of the mansion. Splintered timber flew in all directions. The mansion was totally wrecked. Bodies were hurled into the air and for great distances. Some were thrown as far as 140 feet onto the flats of the Delaware River. One of these was Barber, Hanley member who was killed instantly. He had been on the roof of the mansion playing a stream of water on the flames. The scene became one of almost indescribable excitement and distress. Through the dust and smoke could be seen the bodies of men and children who never had a chance. Others were dying and groaning piteously for help. Many lay insensible of their surroundings. Others, eyes filled with smoke and dust, groped their way from the scene. Trees in the vicinity were filled with the torn and tattered clothing of the victims. Windows in the Methodist Church on Welsh Street "were blown out from the sash." Windows were torn from many homes great distances away. Houses in the vicinity and pavements became hospitals. Drug stores were filled with the injured. The dead were taken to City Hall. All the doctors in the city worked like heroes. They did everything in their power to soothe the suffering. The closest hospital was in Philadelphia. One victim, a man named McNichols, was taken to Pennsylvania Hospital there, somehow. Businesses Close The excitement gripped the entire city. Workmen left their jobs, including those at Roach's Shipyard. Businesses immediately closed. The streets filled with people concerned about their loved ones. Schools were thrown into a state of confusion as alarmed parents constantly called to inquire about their children. Chief Dolton, who owned a Chester cigar store, and William Kelly, president of the Moyas, were both badly hurt. The injured included people like Frank Hunter, the Pennell Street barber; Frank McCall ol the feed business, and John Miller, a reporter for the Times- then called The Chester Daily Times--and neighborhood residents. Miller remembered nothing about the explosion and, upon regaining consciousness, had to be told how he was injured. In a house on Market Street, near 2nd Street, there were three sufferers, all women. Jane Roy had her leg badly injured and doctors found v it necessary to amputate. Clara Lewis had a broken knee. Sallie Black was badly hurt about the body. William H. Farley, the druggist at 9th and Madison Streets in the North Ward, offered to provide the victims of the disaster with drugs and medicines free of charge. Newspapermen swarmed into Chester. The Associated Press in New York dispatched two reporters to the scene. The AP newsmen alone filed more Continued on next page . DAILY TIMES

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