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
Collins Graves' medal for heroism during the Mill River Disaster, Williamsburg, Mass., 1874
TitleCollins Graves' medal for heroism during the Mill River Disaster, Williamsburg, Mass., 1874
Full Size Image
SubjectGraves, Daniel Collins, 1840-1910; Disasters--Massachusetts--Williamsburg; Skinner, William, 1824-1902; Medals; Skinnerville (Mass.); Haydenville (Mass.)
DescriptionOn May 16, 1874 a large water-power reservoir dam 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 villages below. It was the worst disaster of its kind in North American history up to that time, and it made national news. Local farmer Collins Graves (1840-1910) became one of the heroes of the disaster by racing his horse and buggy from Williamsburg center through Skinnerville to Haydenville warning of the onrushing deluge, barely minutes ahead of it. His ride saved hundreds of lives. This 18k gold medal, 47 mm in diameter and 3 mm thick at the edges, and others of similar design were awarded to Graves and three other local men whose acts of courage and selflessness had enabled many to escape with their lives and look on from higher ground as their homes and places of work were obliterated, in many cases without a trace left behind. The four medals were paid for by the reservoir company's shareholders and by a public poetry reading that was staged as a fund-raiser. They were commissioned from Tiffany & Company by silk manufacturer William Skinner, whose mill, boardinghouses and village of Skinnerville had been leveled and his house heavily damaged, but who escaped with his family and whose workers all survived, thanks entirely to Graves. On one side the medal depicts Graves whipping his horse down the valley, while behind him appears a fanciful representation of the reservoir cascading over the dam. In fact Graves was never closer to the dam than three miles from it, but by the end of his ride in Haydenville the flood was very little farther behind him than it appears here. The image is surrounded by the inscription 'Mill River Reservoir Disaster - May 16th, 1874.'
CreatorTiffany & Co., New York
ContributorsPhotographed by Eric Weber
IdentifierMeekins Library - Local History - Objects Collection =- Graves Medal
RelationPart of the Meekins Library, Local History, Objects 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 ^