a central & western massachusetts digital library project
Skip to content home : browse : advanced search : preferences : my favorites : about : help   
add to favorites : reference url back to results : previous : next
View of Skinnerville, Williamsburg, Mass., after the 1874 Mill River Disaster
TitleView of Skinnerville, Williamsburg, Mass., after the 1874 Mill River Disaster
Full Size Image
SubjectDisasters--United States; Disasters--Massachusetts--Skinnerville; Dam failures--Massachusetts; Skinner, William, 1824-1902
DescriptionStereographic overview of the ruined village of Skinnerville after the 1874 Mill River Disaster, looking east 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 fourteen 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 is an eastward overview of the silk mill village of Skinnerville shortly after the flood. The damaged but largely intact mansion of mill owner William Skinner (1824-1902) stands at center. His vanished factory had stood along the riverbank in front of it, with the road (now Route 9) running between them. Beyond the mansion lies the Skinnerville flat, strewn with the battered and tilted hulks of the few houses in the village that weren't swept away altogether. The flood swept this whole flat with up to ten feet of water, silt, boulders, thousands of whole trees, and the shattered wreckage of perhaps a hundred buildings of all kinds from farther upstream, all rushing downstream at eight to ten miles per hour. Not just the mill but the whole village was utterly destroyed. Skinner couldn't afford to rebuild here afterward without the reservoir to provide sufficient water power during dry seasons, so he moved his business to Holyoke, where in the the years that followed William Skinner & Sons became the world's leading silk manufacturer, and where the mansion he took apart in Skinnerville, relocated and reoccupied with his family in 1874-5 is today the Wistariahurst Museum. Skinnerville never recovered as a village in its own right, instead becoming clearly subsidiary to the villages of Williamsburg and Haydenville and gradually losing its distinct identity.
CreatorG. & H. A. Alden, Photographers, Springfield, Mass.
IdentifierMeekins Library-Local History-Historic Photographs Collection-Mill River Disaster 1874-Stereographs
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.
add to favorites : reference url back to results : previous : next
powered by CONTENTdm ® | Contact: June Stokoe ~ Digital Initiatives ~ C/W MARS  ^ to top ^