Digital Commonwealth

Pemberton Mill Disaster

Lawrence Public Library

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The Pemberton Mill was incorporated in 1853. On January 10, 1860 at 5:00 in the afternoon, the entire structure collapsed burying its workers under a mass of brick, mortar, timber, and machinery. The news spread throughout the city sending volunteers to aid in the rescue work. To add to the dimension of the disaster, one of the rescuers that evening accidentally broke a lantern with a pickax, igniting the cotton. Those who had not been saved were lost to the flames. Of the 670 operatives in the building at the time, 307 escaped unhurt, 159 were slightly injured, 116 were severely injured, and 88 died. City Hall became a morgue and a hospital. Two years later, the mill was rebuilt on the same site. It functioned erratically as a manufacturer of cotton goods until 1938. The location of the mill was in the block between Canal and Methuen streets and Newbury and Union streets. 

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