“It's the Lord Almighty coming!”
City patrolman John Gaffney thought it was the end of the world when he heard the thunderous explosion.
Dozens of windows in the downtown area shattered, shards of glass flying everywhere, many citizens thrown to their knees by blast, some sustaining cuts and bruises, some miraculously unharmed by the crush of glass in the air..
People rushed out of their homes, certain that their own neighbors had been killed by an exploding boiler.
All the windows in the Calcium railroad station, eight miles away, were demolished.

Dean Richardson was riding his horse on outer Franklin Street on May 8, 1915 when a tremendous explosion shattered the quiet of an early Saturday afternoon. He raced in the direction of the sound, a cow pasture just west of Gotham Street Road, just west of Thompson Park. A column of smoke was climbing a thousand feet into the air. Richardson was stunned at what he found. Two young men lay dead, blown to bits. A thirty-foot wide crater marked the spot where the Thomas Bradley Company's powder house had stood.

He barely acknowledged the growing crowd of firemen, police, and ordinary citizens crossing the field to the site of the disaster. He later reported that he was barely able to utter a word, dumbstruck by the shock of what he'd witnessed.

Killed in the blast were 19 year-old Almont J. Connelly of 1022 Boyd St. and 17 year-old Earl J. Riordan, 300 Pleasant St.. Connelly's body had been torn to shreds as it was blown nearly 1000 feet. He was identifiable only by his hair and clothing. Riordan's naked remains were found about 100 feet from the site of the blast, his right arm and leg blown off. His billfold and hunting license were found near the body. Also nearby were the barrels and stocks of two .22 caliber rifles, one belonging to each of the boys. A Prince Albert tobacco tin was found nearby with several bullet holes through it, suggesting that the boys had been target shooting and either intentionally or accidentally fired at the building, causing the dynamite inside to explode.

Hundreds of city residents streamed into the field all day long, and on Sunday it was estimated that as many as 15,000 people visited the scene.

The powder house belonged to the Thomas Bradley Company and was under a State permit to store dynamite for sale to the general public for blasting purposes. It was estimated that perhaps 7 tons of dynamite were on the site at the time of the blast. Located 900 feet inside the south-eastern city limits, and 1890 feet from Gotham St, the scrub brush surrounding the house was a popular spot for rabbit hunters, despite a state law that forbid the shooting of firearms within 500 feet of dynamite storage.

An estimated $50,000 in damages were sustained in the city, from broken windows, fallen chimneys, cracked plaster, smashed dishes, and destroyed doors and woodwork. The Thompson Park water tower, half a mile away, sustained damage from flying rocks and shrapnel propelled by the explosion.

After weeks of investigation, the Coroner found that neither the City of Watertown nor Thomas Bradley were liable for the damages caused. He ruled that the explosion had been caused by a rifle shot into the shed, but was unable to determine which boy had fired the shot.

Weeks later, it was reported that hen's eggs that had been set prior to the blast had failed to hatch and it was believed that the hatchlings were killed in the shell by the force of the blast.

  • bradley_powder_house_explosion_-_1915.txt
  • Last modified: 2018/12/06 17:16
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