Night Gas Works Blew Up

Dublin Core


Night Gas Works Blew Up


At 2 a.m. on the morning of Saturday November 12, 1898, most of the residents of Richmond were awaken by a tremendously loud and frightening noise which, as one newspaper editor exclaimed, "Sounded as if ... a load of coal had been dumped down the front stairs." Some thought a tornado had struck the town, while others feared an earthquake had occurred. The constant clanging of the fire bell and the shouts of volunteer firemen in those early morning hours added to the confusion. Some of the religious people and the instantly repentant sinners thought that the world had come to an end and prepared to rush to the churches to "get ready to go."

Those who ventured forth discovered that the gasworks located on the Richmond Water & Gas Co. lot between Main and Irvine Streets had exploded, causing the noise and scattering debris in all directions. The two and a half story brick building which housed the gas generators and boilers was destroyed. The double brick walls on all four sides were almost completely blown down and the roof literally blown up-after which it crashed down into the mass of brick, wood, and grotesquely twisted machinery. The brick chimney was lifted intact and thrown to the front of the building. Onlookers could hardly believe their eyes as what the day before had been a large seemingly permanent building had suddenly become a scattered mass or ruin. Speed McCreary, the Negro night fireman at the gasworks, was inside the building at the time of the explosion. When he pulled himself from the wreckage he discovered that he had suffered only a bruised shoulder.

The loss to the gas plant, which was owned by a private corporation, was set at $5,000, a large sum in those days. Superintendent Daugherty announced that there would be no gas for several days until new arrangements could be made.

Many citizens of Richmond hoped that this disaster would persuade the company to install an electric power plant in order for the city to have electric street lights instead of the weak, uncertain gas street lamps, but that improvement was not to come until a couple of years later when the Richmond Electric Light Co. started operating.


Dr. Robert Grise




Content may be freely copied for personal and educational purposes with appropriate citation. Permission is required to reprint.




Dr. Robert Grise, “Night Gas Works Blew Up,” Madison's Heritage Online, accessed July 13, 2024,