Brockton Fire Museum

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04/04/2021
Today marks the 116th Anniversary of the Grover Factory explosion.This article was written by former Historical Society ...
03/20/2021

Today marks the 116th Anniversary of the Grover Factory explosion.

This article was written by former Historical Society member and Brockton High School teacher Derek A. Canavan.

The Grover Disaster
By Derek A. Canavan
There was a time not long ago when the men and women of
Brockton were the most highly skilled shoemakers in the world. In
1900, if you wanted to wear the best shoes available, you
purchased shoes made in Brockton. The two biggest shoe makers in
Brockton in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were
the W.L. Douglas Co. and the George E. Keith Co. Located on the
city's north and south sides respectively, these two shoe companies
were called the "Bookends of Brockton." Douglas' shoes and
George E. Keith's Walk-Over shoes were the Pepsi and Coca-Cola of
the shoe industry. However, Douglas and Keith were not the only
makers of fine shoes in Brockton. Mr. R. B. Grover was the owner of
the R.B. Grover Shoe Co. Like W.L. Douglas, Grover was an officer
in the Union Army during the US Civil War. After the war he came to
Brockton and soon started making shoes. At the turn of the
century, R.B. Grover Co. was the maker of the popular Emerson
Shoe. The Emerson was one of the best shoes available. Designed to
be fashionable yet affordable, R.B. Grover made each Emerson
shoe from the finest leather and the shoe was designed with a
custom last providing maximum comfort and durability. Though not
the manufacturing Goliath of the Douglas or Keith companies, by
1905 R. B. Grover Co. had thirty-three stores and skyrocketing
sales. Grover was a force in the market.
The Emerson Shoe was so stylish and affordable that the R. B.
Grover Co. was forced to add an entire floor to its factory just to
keep pace with the demand. The Grover factory was a large and
modern building. Mr. Grover made sure his employees worked in a
clean and well ventilated workplace and the Grover employees
were trained to use the most technologically advanced shoemaking
machinery in the business. Though the company increased
production by adding another floor onto the building, no evidence
exists saying whether or not the engineers who expanded the
factory ever addressed the issue of a pressure-boiler designed to
serve three floors that now served four. This oversight would
later prove disastrous.
Things were going well for the R.B. Grover Co. In February of 1905,
the shoe factories of Brockton shipped almost fifty-six thousand
cases of shoes. Production was at an all time high and the more
than four-hundred employees of Mr. R.B. Grover's factory began
the month of March 1905 looking to increase their productivity
even further. Little did they know that a great tragedy was about
to befall them.
Located on the corner of Main and Calmar streets in the largely
Swedish neighborhood of the Campello section of Brockton, the
Grover factory burst into flames at 7:50 am on March 20, 1905. The
over-worked pressure boiler exploded tearing through the four
story building and turning it into a crematorium. The factory roof
collapsed and the four floors crashed down on each other. Those
workers who survived the explosion and collapse were now
entombed beneath heavy timbers, flooring and thousands of pounds
of the latest shoe manufacturing equipment. Unable to move, the
workers were helpless and could only wait for the flames to
consume them. It would not take long because the gas lines that fed
the factory were broken and highly flammable gas fueled the fire.
The Grover was a modern building and the more than three hundred
glass windows, which had allowed the factory floor to be bathed
in sunlight, now contributed to the chimney effect. Oxygen was
pulled in through these windows causing the fire to burn hotter
and faster than any fire the city's fire department had ever
encountered. The combination of air, gas and ventilation, the last
being the lack of a roof on the factory, turned this factory, and
the buildings around it into a four acre cauldron of death. Of the
three hundred plus workers who were in the building, roughly onehundred made it out unscathed. Fifty-eight people were killed,
including some from surrounding buildings that also burned to the
ground, and an additional one-hundred fifty people were injured.
This was the largest boiler disaster in American industrial history
up to that point and if not for the Steamship Sultana explosion in
1865 in which five-hundred returning Union soldiers were killed,
the Grover disaster would have had the largest death toll of any
boiler explosion in American history.
Tragic as this event was, the disaster brought out the best in the
men and women of Brockton. The pages of The Brockton Enterprise
and the Brockton Times for late March are full of these stories of
heroism. The Campello Fire Station shared the block with the
Grover factory and though it was not burned, it was said that the
bricks on its south facing wall were warm to the touch for two
days after the fire. The men of the Campello firehouse were heroes
that day. As hundreds of workers and residents of the Campello
neighborhood ran from the fire, the Campello firefighters charged
into the inferno looking for workers whose cries for help were
barely audible over the roar of the flames. Accounts of the day
record one firefighter named Moore, who ran into the building and
armed only with a firefighter's axe, began hacking away at a thick
metal gate that blocked the escape of three workers. Reports
indicate these three workers were saved.
The pastor of St. Margaret's Church, then a wooden structure just
across the street from the blaze and itself in danger from the
flames, ran into the factory just after the roof collapse. Ignoring
the flames, smoke and intense heat surrounding him, the priest
managed to lift heavy floor joists off of some trapped workers and
escort them to safety. The pastor went back in to repeat his task
and he himself was seriously injured when part of the building fell
on him.
The full account of the disaster, published in 1907, makes specific
mention of Mr. George E. Smith, an employee of the R.B. Grover Co.
who was trapped and pinned to the floor by his feet. Unable to move
or escape the flames himself, Smith, "large of frame and big of
heart" still managed, using only his arms, to rescue his nephew and
pull a Mrs. Lena S. Baker out from under some debris. Mrs. Baker
owed her life to her rescuer but would never get the opportunity
to thank him. George E. Smith burned to death in the flames. Olive
Smith was left to explain to her and George's three young
daughters why their father was not going to come home from the
factory that day. Young Viola, Lillian and Mattie Smith were three
of the fifty-five dependent children who lost a mother or father
that day. Baby Leonis M. Final's mother had died sometime before his
second birthday. He was two years old when his father, Wallace
died in the Grover Fire. Leonis was left in the care of a guardian. He
would never know his parents.
Under the leadership of then Mayor, the Hon. Edward H. Keith, the
site of the disaster was searched for the bodies of those who died.
In fact, Mayor Keith personally supervised the final search himself
and once that search was complete, Mayor Keith ordered one more
search at the request of dozens of grieving family members who
watched from the sidewalk. The remains of the victims were for the
most part not identifiable. Accounts of the recovery effort detail
just how grisly an affair it was. The searchers reported finding
only small fragments of bone in some areas closest to Denton
Street, or the rear of the factory. All of the remains were taken to
a building in the downtown section of Brockton and held there
until April when a proper burial site had been prepared.
Mayor Keith was very aggressive in his response to this disaster.
Before the last body had been cleared, Mayor Keith and the civic
and business leaders in the city had created the Brockton Relief
Fund to aid the sufferers from the disaster and their many
dependents. Under the guidance of Mayor Keith, this fund would go
on to distribute nearly $ 105,000 in cash relief to those in need. The
administrators of the fund managed to do this while keeping
administrative costs down to less than one-fourth of one percent.
The written account of the fund explains it this way, "it took one
cent to distribute four dollars."
The City Council approved expenditure for a grave and memorial at
Melrose Cemetery on Pearl Street on the city's west side. The large
granite monument is visible in the southeast section of the cemetery
and those interested in the Grover disaster would be well served
to go and view it. There are forty victims buried on the site and their
bodies are laid out like "spokes in the wheel all pointing to a
common center" which is the granite monument itself.
In the wake of this tragedy, the entire city mourned. There were
funeral marches and church services all around the city. The role
of Brockton's church communities, as varied in denomination as
they were, cannot be overstated. Loss and suffering brings people
to their houses of worship. We saw that in the aftermath of
September 11, 2001. In the days following the Grover fire, the
local churches held countless services, administered to the
bereaved and took care of those in need. The Lutherans cared for
the Baptists and the Catholics gave clothing to the Methodists.
Each church community reached out to each other's flock
regardless of creed. The city of Brockton was united in tragedy.
The Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at the time
was Brockton's own W.L. Douglas. In the months following the
Grover disaster, Massachusetts would create the most stringent
laws governing boilers and their capacity in the country. The
Massachusetts Boiler Code would later be used as the national
model. The site of the R.B. Grover factory itself lay fallow for
only a few years. Records indicate that by 1919, an automobile
dealership was built. A Studebaker dealership would later occupy
the site as would a small food market. Much of the area has
changed drastically since 1905. The Campello Fire Station is still
the place to find heroes though the building's façade has been
altered. The St. Margaret's Church was built and closed, victim of
porous rock in its walls and a re-organization plan of the Boston
Archdiocese. What has not changed is the spirit of the
Brocktonians who live in the area. They remain a people unbowed by
great challenges and ready for a bright future.
By Derek A. Canavan, March 2005
About the Author
Derek Canavan was born and raised in Brockton and he is the
Second Assistant Curator at the Brockton Historical Society. Mr.
Canavan teaches History at Brockton High School

Please join us. Outside, socially distanced. City Hall ceremony only.
03/10/2021

Please join us. Outside, socially distanced. City Hall ceremony only.

Please join us. Outside, socially distanced. City Hall ceremony only.

Tomorrow on the 80th Anniversary we remember the 13 Firefighters killed at the Strand Theatre fire in 1941. John McNeil,...
03/10/2021

Tomorrow on the 80th Anniversary we remember the 13 Firefighters killed at the Strand Theatre fire in 1941.
John McNeil,
John Carroll
Raymond Mitchell
Mathew McGeary
William Murphy
Daniel O'Brien
Denis Murphy
Roy McKeraghan
Fredrick Kelley
George Collins
Henry Sullivan
Martin Lipper
Bartholomew Herliihy

Please join us Brockton Firefighters at 10 AM at City Hall for a short Memorial Ceremony.

Please join us. Outside, socially distanced. City Hall ceremony only.
03/10/2021

Please join us. Outside, socially distanced. City Hall ceremony only.

Please join us. Outside, socially distanced. City Hall ceremony only.

Please join us. Outside, socially distanced. City Hall ceremony only.
03/08/2021

Please join us. Outside, socially distanced. City Hall ceremony only.

Please join us. Outside, socially distanced. City Hall ceremony only.

Please join us. Outside, socially distanced. City Hall ceremony only.
03/07/2021

Please join us. Outside, socially distanced. City Hall ceremony only.

Please join us. Outside, socially distanced. City Hall ceremony only.

This Stevan Dohanos illustration speaks in volumes. Some of you may have a print of this picture. I'm sure my uncle Bill...
02/24/2021

This Stevan Dohanos illustration speaks in volumes. Some of you may have a print of this picture. I'm sure my uncle Billy Donovan had one as well.
Kids are always asked, What do you want to be when you grow up? And many kids answer... A Firefighter.

(Post from page creator Derek J. Pelton)

This Stevan Dohanos illustration speaks in volumes. Some of you may have a print of this picture. I'm sure my uncle Billy Donovan had one as well.
Kids are always asked, What do you want to be when you grow up? And many kids answer... A Firefighter.

(Post from page creator Derek J. Pelton)

02/23/2021
Don't, miss out on this opportunity to win a real leather helmet!
02/23/2021

Don't, miss out on this opportunity to win a real leather helmet!

Don't, miss out on this opportunity to win a real leather helmet!

56 years ago
02/20/2021

56 years ago

02/16/2021

We are trying to reach members of the following families of those who died in the Strand Fire.

Firefighter George A. Collins - Engine Company 1
Firefighter Bartholomew Herlihy - Ladder Company 1
Firefighter Fredrick F. Kelley - Engine Company 1
Firefighter Martin E. Lipper - Engine Company 1
Firefighter Mathew E. McGeary - Ladder Company 3
Firefighter Denis P. Murphy - Squad A
Firefighter William J. Murphy - Squad A
Firefighter Henry E. Sullivan - Engine Company

Please send us a message with your email address and number. Thanks.

Check out this opportunity.
02/15/2021

Check out this opportunity.

Recently, Local 144 was presented with an amazing opportunity. the Squad A, used at the Strand Theatre Fire was located after nearly 75 years! This is the actual truck that responded to the Strand Theatre Fire in 1941. Realizing that this was a chance to preserve such a meaningful part of Brockton’s history , the members of Local 144 acquired the truck just in time for the 80th remembrance of this tragic event.
Local 144 remains committed to remembering and honoring all of the 13 lives lost at the Strand Theatre. In order to do so, we are raising money. $50 per chance to win 1 of 3 custom Cairns G5A leather Helmets. Drawing to be held on March 10th. Only 300 tickets to be sold! Check out the flyer for more details. Please spread the word.

Tomorrow is the 43 Anniversary - On Monday, Feb. 6, 1978, the Brockton area was bombarded with fast-falling, heavy snow....
02/06/2021
Chief Galligan Blizzard of 78

Tomorrow is the 43 Anniversary - On Monday, Feb. 6, 1978, the Brockton area was bombarded with fast-falling, heavy snow. In the end, it became known as the Blizzard of '78. BROCKTON

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmJAPWrsbxM

The Enterprise of Brockton, Mass.www.enterprisenews.comBrockton Fire Chief Kenneth Galligan remembers the Blizzard of 78, the damage it did and the response ...

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216 N Pearl St
Brockton, MA
02301-1712

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Veterans day November 2006
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It's all about the feet !!!
With the arrival of three new Pierce pumpers at the end of 2020, the original of the seven HME/Central States pumpers purchased between 1994 thru 2003 was recently removed from service after 26-years. This first one was assigned to Squad A in 1994 and reassigned as Spare Engine 10 in 2003 when the Squad received a new piece. These HME/Central States' were the replacements for the fleet of Mack pumpers purchased from 1969 through 1987. The final HME/Central States pumper in front-line service is currently assigned to Squad A. As was the situation with the Mack's, these HME's saw a lot of activity over the years and owe the city nothing!
Engine Co.4 new in 1979 (Photo courtesy of Bob Hedlund)
Final inspection under way on the three well deserved new Pierce Enforcer pumpers for the City of Champions! (Allegiance Fire & Rescue photo)
Mr. Fred Kelley, last surviving son of Firefighter Frederick Kelley, has passed away.
I was thinking how people get recognized for service that they help during a fire, I know some people that should be recognized for their help during a fire, that they were helping put out and got the people in the house to safety and housed them in their own home while fire dept came.
Martin Edward Lipper (Uncle Marty - left) November 9, 1894 - March 10, 1941. Strand Theatre Fire Any information on who the other two firefighters are would be appreciated.🙂
Oddly enough, found this in Grandpa's book as well. United Underwear Corp. sold (I believe), Rayon undergarments that were designed to protect firefighters. The order sheet is really in miraculous condition and has an embossed company logo. The corresponding picture is 630 Washington Street (on the intersection of Essex and Boylston) where the Corporation was located.
Continuing on, as I have a lot of cool things to share! Found this in my Grandfather's "History of the BFD 1935" book. Names were written on the back with the caption/date. My apologies if the names are wrong. My Grandfather is obviously third from left.
My Dad just passed on the 14th and I wanted to share this with you. This was my Grandfather. This is connected to the Strand Theater fire due to the fact that he was there and his Brother, Martin, my Uncle, died in that fire.