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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

A Brief History Of The 1890 Explosion At Kings Mills

Dallas Bogan on 10 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
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A few minutes before 4 o'clock, Tuesday afternoon, July 15, 1890, an explosion of great magnitude rocked the area of King's Mills, which was felt in many directions of Warren County.
The explosion was considered the scene of the worst disaster in the history of the county up to that time. Lebanon residents were affected by a dull shock, which resembled an earthquake or a tremendous explosion.
Immediately dense clouds of black smoke began to rise in the direction of King's Mills and all knew that a terrific blast had taken place. Smaller explosions were soon infiltrated into the scene.
It was an impossibility for Lebanonites to gain word from the area because the telegraph lines were destroyed. Consequently, a long string of buggies and hacks were seen leaving the Lebanon area and heading toward the mill.
The station stood across the Little Miami River on the railroad side. It was the office of the powder company and consisted of a large two-story house, which housed the loaded shells.
Surrounding the station were a dozen little houses where employees and the workers lived with their families.
In an instant all these houses were diminished to a smoking and blazing mass of ruins.
The immediate area of the explosion was the railroad track, which ran close to these buildings. Two cars, which were loaded and ready for shipment with one thousand kegs of powder, were being coupled up to a local freight train.
William Franey, a young man from Corwin, who had only been railroading for a few days, was doing the coupling. The grade of the track was unusually steep and it was assumed that the brakes of the engine did not work as well as had been expected.
The freight coupled into the powder cars with excessive speed and caused a powder keg to explode. A tremendous explosion followed and both cars blew up simultaneously with great force.
Powder cans in the cartridge house just a short distance away began to explode and the building collapsed with a great crash.
Thirty-five girls were at work in the building, but none of them were killed. Many of them leaped from the second story window and some slid down a rope. Some of the girls were found in the woods the next day.
One lady related her experience: "We heard the awful noise, then everything turned black. I saw the timbers start to fall and we all ran out. I think all the girls escaped but many of them fainted and had to be carried. My father was near the house at the time and he, together with some other men, ran in to help us girls. I don't think any of them ever got out and my father I know is dead."
Grief overcame the girl as she wrapped her face in her bloody arms.
Her father, Henry Reynolds, indeed had perished in his heroic efforts to save the helpless girls. His only means of identification was the peculiar suspenders he was known to wear.
Men and women alike were searching for survivors. James Moss stood on the iron bridge and as he watched the charred timbers and debris floating down the river, he prayed God that he might follow his wife and little child who had gone with the first explosion to their last home.
The wind had changed and was blowing straight up the ravine carrying the flames toward the magazine where there was stored three months' output of powder, about fifty tons total.
Orders were given to evacuate the entire vicinity. Fortunately, the wind changed to another direction and the newly found dangers were averted.
Heroism and acts of mercy were very noticeable. The cottages on the west side of the river were soon set up as hospitals and all possible comforts were given to the wounded men and women.
Doctors were summoned from all parts of the county. Drs. Tichenor, Frost, Drake, Graham and Blair, all of Lebanon, hurried in buggies to assist in any way they could.
The fatalities from the explosion were: Mrs. Fred Keller and two children, Mrs. Moss and one child, Henry Reynolds, Sam Stephenson, Al Williams and William Franey.
Twenty-four hours after the explosion word came from the factory that the trains were again running and the work of repair was being pushed rapidly. All danger of the magazine exploding was now passed and the works would be in running order again in a few days.

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This page created 10 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
© 2004 Arne H Trelvik  All rights reserved