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Notable Fires:

Novelty Distillery Works
On Price Street, halfway between the city and the Mission Dolores
November 2, 1855


1855 November 2

About noon to-day, a still in the Novelty Distillery burst with a terrific explosion, and threw showers of the hot liquid in every direction. Five men were badly scalded. Their names are Bernard Bird, Mr. Carrol, Mr. Hershfeld. Mr. Barnete and Peter Byrne. The first named cannot survive ; hopes are entertained of the recovery of all the others, although some of them are very badly scalded. A woman named Emily Edwards saved the lives of four men, as she was the only person to pull them out and cover them from the air.

The entire building was quickly in flames, and in half an hour was a mass of ruins. This was one of the largest establishments of the kind in the United States, and the loss cannot be less than $400,000. Or $500,000, as the building, machinery, etc. cost $3000,000. A large amount of the money invested in the establishment was owned by New York capitalists.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 6, Number 273, 3 November 1855 — From our Evening Edition of Yesterday. TERRIBLE EXPLOSION AT THE NOVELTY DISTILLERY [ARTICLE]


1855 November 2

— This morning at half-past eleven o'clock, as Mr. Saul Isaacs, an employee in the Novelty Distillery Works, was charging the still for the first time in the day, the alcohol exploded, throwing Mr. Isaacs eight feet from his position at the still and scalding him very badly on the face and arms.

The explosion set fire to a large quantity of alcoholic spirits, which were strewn over the house, and in a short time the whole interior of the building was in a conflagration. The fire lasted there two hours, and consumed the entire stock of liquors on hand, together with the frame work of the house, besides cracking the walls, so that they fell. The Fire Department was soon on hand, although the engines are located at least a mile and a half from the scene of the fire, but their exertions were unavailing, except to save the out houses.

The most melancholy part of the disaster is that four men were badly scalded by the diffusion of the steam through the building. Mr. Saul Isaacs was badly injured, together with his brother, who was with him at the time, although the latter was not so seriously scalded. Mr. Carral was badly scalded all over his person, and it is doubtful if he will recover. Mr. Wm. Deal and Mr. Kelly were also scalded very seriously; and Messrs. Hershfield and Burnett, the proprietors of the works, were slightly injured. Peter Burns was another sufferer, though not so badly as the rest, being simply scalded in the face by the emission of steam from the worm.

There were thirty persons employed in the distillery at the time, and it is not certain as yet but that some of these have been killed by the falling in of the roof. The loss is estimated at $300,000.

A woman named Emily Edwards, a Creole from the West Indies, and one who was badly burned in the great fire of 1851, is entitled to great credit for her exertions to-day. She was the first person to give the alarm, she had the fence torn down and carried out a large quantity of grain, and she it was who saved the four men who were scalded, by dragging them from the building and covering them with her own clothing, which she tore off of her person. The fire was excruciating hot, and the danger from the falling of the walls prevented the firemen from being as useful as they otherwise would, Mr. Bernard Bird, of the Mountain Queen, was also burned very badly. — News.

It was since reported that three of the injured persons had died.
Source: Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 10, Number 1438, 3 November 1855 — POSTSCRIPT [SECTION]


1855 November 3

The fire at the Novelty Distillery Works, yesterday, as was stated in our Evening Edition, originated in the explosion of an alcoholic still which was being charged for the last time. Mr. Saul Isaacs, an employee in the establishment, was holding the charge at the time, and when the explosion took place he was thrown a considerable distance from the still, and fell covered with the hot steam. The inflammable fluid was instantly set on fire, and spread over the floor of the building, communicating with the halls and setting fire to a large quantity of spirituous liquors arranged about the building.

The explosion took place at half past eleven, and the flames continued to rage until half-past four, feeding upon the vast accumulation of liquors and inflammable substances in the basement. The interior of the building, at one o'clock, was a mass of ruins, yet the red flame continued to lap against the outer walls which were then standing; and although the firemen constantly poured a flood of water upon the intense mass of ascending flames, no visible effect was produced, until the stately surroundings of the building— walls 24 inches thick --fell before the fervent heat. The atmosphere around was laden with heated steam and flying cinders, and it was at much peril that firemen ventured close to the burning building. Ever and anon some portion of the walls would fall outward with a terrible crash, and with no little warning, that persons within 20 feet of the house were in danger.

The Novelty Distillery works were located on a -200-vara lot, fronting on Price street, halfway between the city and the Mission Dolores. The building was three stories high, with a basement, and was, with one exception, the most extensive manufactory of the kind in the United States. It was 78 feet front on Price street, by 108 deep, and contained all the necessary machinery for the manufacture of 2400 gallons of pure spirits per day. In addition to the main building there was an L, 40 by 31 feet. It was capable of consuming 15,000 tons of grain annually, equal to 300,000 one hundred pound sacks. The estimated cost of the works, when first completed, was in the neighborhood of $300,000, the principal portion of which was advanced by New York capitalists, although two wealthy firms in San Francisco were partially interested. This entire establishment, with all the grain, etc., stored on the premises was totally destroyed.

The most melancholy portion of this disastrous affair is the fact that lives also were consumed in the great sacrifice. Mr. Carroll, a workman in the distillery, was so severely injured that he died in about six hours. Mr. Saul Isaacs, the gentleman engaged in charging the still at the time of the explosion was badly burned over his face, breast, arms and abdomen, and it is extremely doubtful if he can survive. Mr. Bernard Bird, proprietor of the Mountain Inn, was badly scalded ever his breast and arms, and died about six P.M. His wounds were external, while most of the others were injured internally. Mr. Wm. Deal, an employee of the establishment, and Mr. Benjamin Isaacs, brother of the gentleman mentioned above, were also injured, but their wounds are slight. Both of the resident owners, Messrs. M. Barnett and H. Hirschfeld, were slightly scalded. There were about 30 persons employed about the distillery and. considering the suddenness of the is really surprising that no other damage was done.

The fire engines were rolled out the entire distance in the dead run, and the eagerness with which all endeavored to do their duty precludes the notice of any particular one.
Source: Daily Alta California, Volume 6, Number 273, 3 November 1855 — THE FIRE YESTERDAY [ARTICLE]


— In addition to the account of the disastrous conflagration, attendant also with loss of life, published in this paper on Saturday, we give the following particulars, from the Times and Transcript:

At the time of the explosion there were about thirty persons in the building, who suffered to a greater or less extent. Mr. Carrell, one of the number, was shockingly scalded, and expired about 8 o'clock last night. Bernard Bird, also dreadfully scalded, died at an early hour last evening. Carrell and the two Messrs. Isaacs were removed to the house of Mrs. Cunningham, and received every attention at her hands. Wm. Deal and Mr. Kelly were also severely scalded. Messrs. Herschfield and Barnett, the conductors, as well as Mr. Burn, were slightly injured. At twelve o'clock last night Coroner Kent informs us Mr. Solomon Isaacs and his brother were comparatively easy, with a prospect of their recovery. In addition to these, several other persons were slightly injured. It was reported last night that other persons were buried beneath the ruins, but Coroner Kent, who left there at twelve o'clock, thinks this rumor is not well founded.

Young America Engine No. 13, from the Mission, was the first to reach the burning pile, which was then a mass of flames, and was the first to throw water on the western side. Knickerbocker No. 5 was the second on the ground, and immediately put on a powerful stream on the front of the building. All the other engines except Empire No. 1— which broke down on the way — and Monumental No. 6 — which went by the way of Brannan street and could not, therefore, get near the building— were promptly on the ground and took part in the work of extinguishing the fire. This was, however, an impossibility, and in the course of forty minutes the interior the building was entirely consumed.

So intense was the heat that it caused the walls to expand, and they soon commenced crumbling and falling outwardly, a story at a time. Notwithstanding this the firemen continued their efforts so near the pile as to have been almost scorched, and all the while in eminent danger from the falling walls, During this time all the walls except on the north side had fallen, when finally the northeast corner fell out with tremendous crash, carrying destruction in its course

Thos. I. Seward was standing at one of the windows, by the side of W. E. Fitzgibbons, pipe-man of No. 14, when the wall fell. They were then throwing a stream through the window. Mr. Fitzgibbons was on the sill of the window, and was thrown by the oscillation of the wall into the interior, whilst the wall itself fell outward, crushing Mr. Seward. Mr. James Denniston, who held the pipe of No. 13, immediately rushed over the ruins and succeeded in extricating Mr. Fitzgibbons from his frightful position. He was, however, dreadfully mangled in the fall, having had the scalp taken off his head, and the skin and part of the flesh torn from his back in a horrible manner. Although badly lacerated, his wounds are not considered dangerous. Mr. Seward was promptly released, but his legs were completely crushed, in addition to a severe wound on the head. He made one effort to speak, it: which he failed, and in a very short time expired. His remains were brought to the new engine house of Volunteer No. 7, of which company he was an original member. He was a native of South Boston, formerly a seaman and at present a drayman.

At the time of the falling of the wall, Mr. Berkley, who was in the same vicinity, also received severe injuries from the falling bricks, and one other fireman, whose name we could not learn, was also injured. The escape of hundreds of others, in the immediate vicinity is almost marvelous.

The building, itself, cost $27, 000, which would be increased to $100,000 by the machinery and necessary apparatus. It was the largest distillery on the Pacific coast, and the property consumed could not have been less than $250,000. It was owned by a company, and the principal portion of the capital was invested by parties in New York, where an insurance of $100,000 is said to have been effected. In this city, the principal stockholders were Alsop &Co. This loss will be increased, from the fact that it will interfere with contracts to a large amount, already made.
Source: Sacramento Daily Union, Volume 10, Number 1439, 5 November 1855 — Arrival of the Uncle Sam. [ARTICLE]

Extracted from original sources with grammar and spelling as published.

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