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Wreckage along Joe Wright Brook after the 1874 Mill River Disaster, Williamsburg, Mass.
TitleWreckage along Joe Wright Brook after the 1874 Mill River Disaster, Williamsburg, Mass.
Full Size Image
SubjectDisasters--United States; Dam failures--Massachusetts; Disasters--Massachusetts--Williamsburg
DescriptionStereographic view of wreckage along Joe Wright Brook in the aftermath of the Mill River Disaster On the morning of May 16, 1874 the huge earthen dam holding back a 100-acre water power reservoir three miles above Williamsburg on the East Branch of the Mill River failed catastrophically, causing vast destruction and the loss of 139 lives in the factory villages of Williamsburg, Skinnerville, Haydenville and Leeds. It was the worst disaster of its kind in North American history up to that time, and it made national news. The event was such a sensation that many thousands of gawkers and souenir-hunters descended on the ruined villages by the trainload, turning the misery of bereaved and destitute families into a tourist attraction and helping themselves to anything they could carry away. Photographers from all over New England arrived in the stricken valley to record the destruction in stereographs, then the primary medium for disseminating photographs to a national audience hungry for images. An estimated 500 different stereo images of the disaster's aftermath were shot by at least 14 different photographers, and most were very widely reproduced and distributed. The Meekins Library collection includes at least 84 different views, all mounted on heavy cards for use in handheld stereo viewers. This stereograph shows a debris field left by the flood near the mouth of Joe Wright Brook, a tributary of the Mill River that enters it between the villages of Williamsburg and Skinnerville. Eyewitnesses reported that a momentary debris dam in the main valley backed the flood up into the small valley of Joe Wright Brook to create a temporary 'cove, ' and left in it this mound of debris, topped by a nearly intact iron bridge that had spanned the river a quarter of a mile upstream. Evidently the huge quantity of floating debris in the water had lifted and bulldozed the bridge off its stone abutments, which were completely washed away, and the floating mass was left here after the debris dam below broke and the flood surged on into Skinnerville. The bodies of 20 of Williamsburg village's 57 flood victims were reportedly found under and around this bridge and heap of rubbish. The card is not marked with the photographer's name, but other copies of this same image have been found that bear Knowlton Brothers markings. They are all captioned 'Cove at Williamsburg.'
CreatorBelieved to be Knowlton Brothers Photographers, Northampton, Mass.
IdentifierMeekins Library - Local History - Historic Photographs Collection - Mill River Disaster
RelationPart of the Meekins Library, Williamsburg, Mass., Local History Historic Photographs Collection.
RightsPermission to publish the image must be obtained from the Meekins Library by writing to or Meekins Library, Williamsburg, Mass., must be credited as the original source of the item for all use.
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