Before My Time is about the ancestry and extended family of my four grandparents: John Samuel Krentz (Indiana/North Dakota), Margreta Tjode Hedwig (Gertie) Buss (North Dakota), Rosmer Pettis Kerr (Pennsylvania/Michigan), and Evelyn Elvina Hauer (Michigan), and other topics in genealogy and family history.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Wadsworth Manufacturing Company Fire, 1919

(click to enlarge)

Among the photos kept by my grandparents Kerr, I found two which aroused my curiosity. They were not identified, but my recent virtual tour of The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit and poking around in the Hall of Fame threads at Discuss Detroit gave me hope that I might find a way to identify these pictures, so I went on a search for images of historic Detroit factory fires.

Architects and factory people are probably hip to the subtle nuances of factory buildings but I, I discovered, am not. Well, I wasn't when I started searching, anyhow. But as you'll see if you click to enlarge these photos, there is an enormous amount of detail in them, which became very interesting to me as I ruled out possibilities.

(click to enlarge)

At John Davis' website, Detroit Engine Works, he'd posted this image from a Detroit newspaper dated 2 August 1919. (I've added a slight blur to the image to counteract the dotty effect of scanning a newspaper photo):

(click to enlarge)

John quoted the newspaper text as well:
Minutes after the first alarm was given the plant of the Wadsworth Manufacturing Co. was in flames. The photograph, taken from Jefferson Avenue, shows the extent of the destruction. The roof caved in quickly, flames reflecting from a background of dense smoke illuminating the sky. Three explosions helped demolish the structure and hurled burning timbers to nearby factories which took fire, among them the Maxwell Chalmers plant. A high wind aided in spreading the flames. A falling wall struck two fire engines, wrecking them.
Thanks to his research, I feel strongly that my unidentified photos are images showing what was left of the Wadsworth Manufacturing Company after the explosions and fire. Although the two photos in the composite below were taken from slightly different angles, I've lined them up for easy comparison of the remaining structures of the building. To me, it appears to be a match.

(click to enlarge)

Why would this fire have been of interest to my grandparents? I think proximity would explain that. In 1919, they lived in the 1000 block of Jefferson Avenue, and I believe the Wadsworth plant was located in the 1200 block.

I hope someday a reader of this blog will be able to confirm or refute my identification of these two photos. Please leave a comment if you can add any information.

Wadsworth ad from The Fordowner, December 1915, p. 63
(monthly periodical published at Milwaukee, Wisconsin)


See also: Wadsworth Update with a tasty side dish of Long Family History


Laura said...

That is really interesting - and you have done great detective work!

T.K. said...

Thanks, Laura, I've always wondered about these two photos. I gotta give props to Google, as always, for making the internet so useful!

bobb said...

I also found a photograph of the Wadsworth factory fire among my mother's pictures. I did not know what the significance of the picture was until reading your blog. Thanks for sharing.

bobb said...

I will be glad to email you a copy of the photograph my mother took of the Wadsworth fire.

T.K. said...

Many thanks, bobb, for sharing your photos and story. I've given them a post of their own so they won't be lost at the bottom of this one.

Blog Archive


Our Family in Books: A Bibliography

  • My Ancestors in Books (a library of resources and notes pertaining to Reverend Samuel Stone, Major General Robert Sedgwick, Elder John Crandall, and other early Americans in the forest where my family tree was grown)
  • The Zahnisers: A History of the Family in America by Kate M. Zahniser and Charles Reed Zahniser (Mercer, Pa. 1906)
  • History of St. James Lutheran Church [full title: A little of this and a little of that in the 141 year (1861-2002) History of St. James Lutheran Church, Reynolds Indiana] by Harold B. Dodge, published at Reynolds, Indiana, 2002; 170 pages.
  • Lisbon, North Dakota 1880-2005 Quasuicentennial, published at Lisbon, North Dakota in 2005; 391 pages.
  • The Paschen and Redd Families of Cass County, Indiana by Alfred Paschen, c. 2005 (Gateway Press, Inc., Baltimore, MD); 322 pages.
  • Sheldon Community History: Sheldon Centennial 1881-1981, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 1981; 376 pages.
  • Sheldon, North Dakota 1881-2006 - 125th Anniversary: The Queen of the Prairie, published at Sheldon, North Dakota in 2006; 498 pages.
  • A Standard History of White County, Indiana, written under the supervision of W.H. Hamelle, c. 1915 (The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago and New York).
  • The Roots of Coventry, Connecticut by Betty Brook Messier and Janet Sutherland Aronson, c. 1987 (Coventry 275th Anniversary Committee, Coventry, CT); 206 pages.
  • "Elder John Crandall of Rhode Island and His Descendants" by John Cortland Crandall; New Woodstock, New York, 1949; 797 pages.
  • "The Descendants of Robert Burdick of Rhode Island." Nellie (Willard) Johnson, Pd.B.: H & L Creations, LLC.

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