116 Years Ago: Dover, NH, Mill Fire Claimed Several Lives in Scene of Chaos and Flames
Here in New England, our region is filled with centuries of both fascinating and tragic history.
In New Hampshire, many have heard of the deadly Cocheco Mills fire that occurred on January 26, 1907, in what's now the One Washington Center mill complex in Dover. In case you aren't familiar, here's what happened.
What caused the Cocheco Mills fire?
According to this Foster's Daily Democrat article, the day began as an ordinary Saturday at the five-story Cocheco Manufacturing Company, which employed over 600 workers at the time.
No one knows for sure how the fire started, but Foster's and police officer Mark Leno pieced together the events which they believe caused the blaze.
In short, the fourth floor sprinklers malfunctioned, resulting in the water on the third, fourth, and fifth floors being shut off for repairs. It was then when a wet but operational leather belt slipped, hit a belt box, and set off sparks which ignited nearby cotton at around 6:30pm, according to the City of Dover.
What happened once people realized the building was on fire?
As the flames quickly spread, Foster's explained that attempts to put the fire out were unsuccessful, and the lack of water on the building's upper levels only made things worse. Once workers on those doomed floors realized there was still no running water, they took desperate measures to get to safety, including "taking ropes off the machines, breaking windows and trying to escape."
How was the fire put out?
According to Foster's, multiple fire departments teamed up to fight the blaze as thousands of onlookers observed the catastrophe. Before the flames were extinguished, "the two top floors ended up burning down on top of the third floor. Half of the third floor also burned down onto the second floor." The City of Dover stated that it took 36 hours to put the fire out, as the frigid temperatures caused the water in the fire engines to freeze.
How many people perished in the blaze?
Although lots of people were injured in the fire, only a handful (sources say four to six) lost their lives. One death is too many, of course, but it was considered a miracle that more people didn't perish in what was deemed the worst fire in the town's history at the time. This Dover Public Library 1907 report revealed the tragic fact that "of the four who lost their lives in the building, three went out of the safely at the first alarm and were seen in the mill yard, or in the street, and had returned into the mill, presumably for their clothing."
Is One Washington Center haunted as a result of the tragedy?
At present, the One Washington Center mill complex is home to a variety of businesses and apartments...and possibly ghosts.
Because of the fire and lives lost, stories of paranormal activity in the building circulate to this day. Over the years, people have reported everything from strange lights to the sounds of machinery, disembodied voices, and more.
To see more images of the aftermath of the Cocheco Mills fire, click here.
Want to learn more about New Hampshire's history? Here's a look at some of the most historic restaurants in the state.