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View from east side of reservoir bed, showing west wall and gatekeeper's house, after the 1874 Mill River Disaster in Williamsburg, Mass.
TitleView from east side of reservoir bed, showing west wall and gatekeeper's house, after the 1874 Mill River Disaster in Williamsburg, Mass.
Full Size Imagehttp://dlib.cwmars.org/cdm4/images/full_size/Williamsburg/012.jpg
SubjectDam failures--Massachusetts; Disasters--United States; Disasters--Massachusetts; Williamsburg (Mass.); Cheney, George, 1844-1918
DescriptionStereographic view of the failed dam and Cheney cabin after the 1874 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 souvenir-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, taken from the empty reservoir bed, shows the western remnant of the failed dam, which had been 600 feet long and 43 feet high in the center, and the small cabin overlooking it occupied by the family of dam keeper George Cheney (1844-1918), an employee of the mill owners who built and owned the dam. The tall stone wall of which a small portion is visible here had been at the core of the earthen dam and was meant to be impervious to water, but it was not designed or built properly and was never watertight, allowing the huge earthen slopes banked against both sides of it to become saturated and slump away. Cheney's father, at breakfast in the cabin, happened to see a portion of the dam's downstream face slide away that morning, and Cheney mounted his unsaddled horse and raced to Williamsburg center to tell his boss that the dam was collapsing - as it did, completely, 15-20 minutes after he left it. His warning was carried farther downstream by others, saving hundreds of lives at the busy factories where they stopped, but missing many individuals in their homes and barns along the way who never heard the warnings.
CreatorKnowlton Brothers Photographers, Northampton, Mass.
PublisherC/WMARS http://www.cwmars.org
Date1874
Typeimage
Formatimage/jpg
IdentifierMeekins Library- Local History-Historic Photographs Collection-Mill River Disaster 1874-Stereographs
Languageen-US
RelationPart of the Meekins Library, Williamsburg, Mass., Local History Historic Photographs Collection. http://www.meekins-library.org/
RightsPermission to publish the image must be obtained from the Meekins Library by writing to ddarienzo@cwmars.org or Meekins@cwmars.org. Meekins Library, Williamsburg, Mass., must be credited as the original source of the item for all use.
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