The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Oswego Advertiser & Times (Oswego, NY), Wed. , Sept. 29, 1870

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Destruction of the Steam Tug Dodge -
Heavy and Wide-Spread Damage -
Remarkable Escape of the Crew from Injury -
The City Treated to a Mild Earthquake Experience.

About ten minutes past 4 o'clock this morning, the whole city was aroused by a most terrific report and concussion, that shook buildings to their foundations and rattled windows and crockery ware like a veritable shock of an earthquake. Indeed, such was the overwhelming force of the concussion, that many people were fully impressed with the belief that some great natural convulsion had occurred. - either a stray earthquake had glanced off from the Pacific Slope in this direction, or that of one of Prof. Peter's newly discovered asteroids had fallen in upon us.

Everybody was abroad at an early hour, anxiously inquiring the nature of the alarming event, and to what extent our already decimated census had been further reduced. The intelligence was soon circulated that the steam tug Geo. J. Dodge had exploded her boiler, while lying at the wharf in from of the Columbia Elevator, on the east side of the harbor, but with the gratifying assurance that no injury to life or limb had attended the disaster. A glance at the neighborhood of the explosion, and almost anywhere on the principal streets on the west side of the river, indicated widespread destruction of property.

The Dodge had been laying up at the wharf over night, the Captain and Engineer being ashore, and the only persons remaining on board were James Burns, the fireman, Penfield, deck-hand, and the wife of the latter, who was employed as cook. Between 3 and 4 o'clock, Burns started up the fire in the furnace, as he was accustomed to do, and the explosion took place an hour afterwards. From the circumstances, there can be n doubt that the occasion was a lack of water in the boiler, the small quantity which it contained being speedily generated into the dangerous explosive gas, of ten-fold more force than steam.

Who was responsible for such culpable negligence at this appears to have been, the parties who owned or run the tug are better entitled to explain than us. The upper portion of the tug at least was blown into atoms, and Burns relates he was sitting in the engine room when the explosion occurred, and found himself floundering in the water some yards out in the river, without any clear comprehension of the manner of his sudden transition. He swam ashore and escaped without the slightest injury, which was one of the most astonishing preservations that ever happened. Mr. Penfield and his wife, who were sleeping in the cabin of the tug, also found themselves in the water, and were rescued by men from a neighboring vessel, and found to be entirely uninjured.

Fragments of the boiler and debris of the wreck ascended through the southwest corner of the Columbia Elevator, tearing away a large section of the building, and splintering the timbers into match material. The damage to the elevator will amount to somewhere between one and three thousand dollars. The great destruction elsewhere wrought was on the West side of the river, the lofty elevators breaking the force of the concussion on the East side.

A few windows were broken in different stores on East First street, but the damage was light. On West First street, on Water street, on the west sides of those streets, the destruction of windows was almost complete in some buildings, and the damage extended from Seneca to Bridge streets. In some instances the whole front windows of stores, sashes and all, were entirely smashed, and numerous parties have sustained damage to considerable amounts.

A large piece of timber, a part of one of the knees of the tug, was found on First street, in front of the Palladium office, and smaller fragments have been found as far away as 5th street. The starting bar of the engine, bent out of shape, and which weighed 24 pounds, was thrown over the commercial buildings on the wharf, the high stores on the east side of First street, and passed through the front of William Blackwood's grocery, making a clean sweep of windows and sash, knocking a show case and its contents into chaos, and bringing up against the head of a barrel of vinegar in the rear of the store.

A large piece of iron went through the roof of the Bronson block, on Water st. , doing considerable damage to the building. A piece of timber was thrown through the side of Mr. Ashley's Hotel, on Water street, smashing shelves and crockery ware and destroying a clock in the dining room. Another piece of timber struck Mr. Ashley's buggy, which was standing in the street, and made a complete wreck of the establishment.

The worthy landlord relates that the uproar occasioned no little consternation in his hotel, and a few moments afterwards one or two travelers came down from their rooms with their valises in hand, and inquired if the next train was about starting. A long list of parties who have suffered more or less damage by the explosion could be made up, and which would include most of the occupants of buildings north of Bridge street from the river front back to Second street. People who were sleeping within those limits state that the concussion was tremendous, and buildings were shaken as if by earthquake.

It must be considered fortunate that the disaster occurred at an hour when the streets were entirely deserted, as it could hardly have been possible in the daytime that such an explosion could have failed of fatal results. Many splinters of the tug have been picked up to-day, on the streets and in the dooryards on the west side, and a water pail, somewhat battered, was found on the roof of a building on Water street.

The captain of the brig Sea Gull, who was sleeping in his cabin within a few feet from the bow of the Dodge, relates that the shock of the explosion completely overwhelmed him, and he was unable to collect his senses for some moments, when he came up and assisted in rescuing the parties in the water. The stern of the Sea Gull was slightly chipped and one of her davits was cut off square.

This morning fragments of the tug were seen floating over the spot where she sunk while pieces of her wheel, and large fragments of boiler plate, torn in ragged strips, were found lodged among the timbers of the elevators.

Space would not permit us to recount the profusion of incidents, many of them very amusing, related in connection with the disaster. The proprietress of an establishment on Water street, who appears to have a ready comprehension from past experience, had the front windows of her place blown in, and shortly after came running up to the station crying "police! police! there they go round the corner!'

A guest at one of the hotels on the east side had requested to be called at 5 o'clock in the morning, and on being aroused by the explosion, with a rattling of windows and wash pitchers, he sprang out of bed, promptly calling out to the supposed porter, "That will do; you needn't make such a d--d noise about it. "

A drowsy citizen on the west side was shook into consciousness by his wife, with the alarming piece of information that a burglar had just fallen down the kitchen stairs with the sewing machine. "Yes," declared the exasperated lady, "I knew it would be so, coming home at all hours of night as you do, and leaving the doors wide open. " The citizen says it was the heaviest blowing up he has experienced for some time.

The Dodge was owned by the Frost Brothers and Mr. Thos. Dobbie, and was valued at about $8,000. She will prove a total loss, insurance not being recoverable.

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Wed. , Sept. 29, 1870
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Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Oswego Advertiser & Times (Oswego, NY), Wed. , Sept. 29, 1870