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Awful Explosion: Mr. Neis and Son are killed.


Posted By: Volunteer: Sherri
Date: 10/16/2016 at 10:16:28

Engine House of Flouring Mill Is Demolished.

Concussion Shakes the Town - Debris Strewn Hundreds of Yards Around - The Funeral.

One of the most appalling and frightful disaster in the history of our town occurred Friday last. A muffles sound as if a heavy body had fallen to the earth, a sudden jaring of doors and windows, a cloud of steam at the flour mill east of the main part of town, a telephone message in two or three minutes that the boiler had blown up, that help was needed and to bring doctors, is the story in outline of the most lamentable accident. Mr. Neis, the proprietor of the mill, and George, his 19 years old son, were fatally injured, the former living perhaps 20 minutes and the latter two hours or thereabout. The mill which is a four story stone structure was built to be run by water power. When steam was substituted a frame addition was erected as an engine house, and it was this structure which was demolished.

On Friday morning the mill had been run up to the time of the explosion. The engine had been stopped temporarily to allow the belts to be changed from one set of buhurs to another. Mr. Neis and George, Andy and Louis were in the engine house. When everything was in readiness, the two latter stepped out to go into the mill proper, saying as they went, "let her go." George was turning the wheel to let the steam into the steam chest, and the father was at the other end of the boiler.

Andy and Louis had not gotten into the mill before the catastrophe came. A sudden report, a staggering concussion and the air was filled with parts of the boiler, parts of the engine house, and debris and missles(sp) of every kind. The boiler was literally torn to pieces. The dome and a part of the upper side were thrown out on the ice nearly a third way across the river. Other parts were hurled in other directions a distance of 100 to 200 yards and possibly farther. The bulkhead has not been found, although it would be thrown inward instead of toward the river. The lumber of which the engine house was constructed was hurled in every direction, it being levelled to the earth. The high smokestack fell, and the roof nearest the engine house of the mill proper was crushed in by the force of the concussion. All the windows in the mill were broken.

The detonation was plainly heard here, and the concussion produced an atmospheric vibration that shook doors and windows in every building in the town. The violence of the atmospheric disturbance was such that it seemed to many as if an outside door had been blown shut or some heavy object had been thrown against a building. We learn the concussion shook doors and windows at least a mile from here, and perhaps farther. From this fact one can gain some faint idea of the awful force of the explosion. As soon the report was heard and the shock experienced people ran out on the street earger to learn what had happened. In two to five minutes a telephone message from the Neis home near the mill conveyed the sad news of the explosion, the injury to Mr. Neis and his son, and asking for help and doctors. Within a very short time large numbers of people were hastening to the scene.

There they found the open lots around the mill strewn with debris from the wreck. Mr. Neis was found lying at what was the rear end of the boiler, - the end towards the river. All the ribs on his left side were broken, and his side crushed. He was unconscious, and death ensued within a few minutes after his removal to the house.

George was found near where the opposite end of the boiler had been. He had been struck on the upper part of the left side of the face. He was also unconscious, an died about two hours after the accident.

The cause of the explosion is unknown. Not more than two or three minutes before the catastrophe the boiler registered only 80 pounds of steam. It is thought however the accident was due to the boiler being old and the fiber of the iron being given out by constant vibration. An examination of the iron since has shown it to be brittle, which appears to confirm this theory.

Ordinarily however a boiler gives way at its weakest point and the steam blows out at the aperature. In this case the boiler was actually torn all to pieces. Possibly the pump, from some hidden cause, was not throwing as much water into the boiler as was supposed; or gas may have been generated in the boiler, as it sometimes does from causes which are not yet understood, and the force of the explosion would indicate that it may possibly have been caused by gas. However the real cause will never be known with certainty.

The Nies mill is a large stone structure four stories high. It was erected by Mr. J.J. Kinnersley, and was completed in 1862, having been two years in course of construction. The first flour mill in the county was built here by Hadden Besecker & McGuire in 1842. The mill at Bentonsport was erected in 1843, and the Meek mill at Bonaparte and the Death mill at Farmington were erected in 1844. However it is said there had been a mill at Bonaparte before the Meek mill. The flour mill here passed into the hands of Kinnersley & Cutler in 1849, and a few months there after Mr. Kinnersley became sole owner, and expended $5,000 in improving and adding to it. In February 1857, an ice gorge knocked it from its foundation and it floated down the river. Then three or four years later the present mill was erected. Mr. Neis bought it of the Kinnersley heirs about 1890.

The walls of the mill are not injured by the explosion, and all that is necessary to start again is to procure a new boiler and engine. The heirs of Mr. Neis are undecided whether they will put it in operation again. They estimate the cost of fixing it up anew at $2,000.

(Note: The remainder of the article is posted in obituaries.)

Source: Van Buren Co. Genealogical Society Obituary Book G, Page 247/248, Keosauqua Public Library, Keosauqua, IA


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