Cove Mills Perish in Stamford's Biggest Fire (1919)
from Newsletter, Volume 49, Issue 1, The Stamford Historical Society
At 7:00 in the
evening of February 19, 1919, a small fire started in the acid storage room
huge Cove Mills, a complex of about
25 "fireproof" buildings sprawled over western Cove Island and well up Cove
Road. It rapidly became the most spectacular, most destructive fire in Stamford
About 100 workers were in the plant. A
strong northwest wind spread the flames quickly as firebrands
leap-frogged across the giant complex. All the firefighting apparatus
from Stamford, Noroton Heights, Glenbrook and Springdale, the
strategic fire hydrants, and the firewalled brick construction proved
powerless. The flames lit up the sky with vivid colors, drawing
thousands of spectators to the high ground around the plant. The
drama was startling as boilers blew up, extract vats popped and
massive brick walls tumbled. Fortunately the terrifying sparks flew
mostly toward the Sound, away from nearby homes, though some owners
took furniture outside for safety. Firebrands hit General Skiddy's
Pound Rocks mansion and the Holly house, now SoundWaters Inc. HQ, but
residents on the roofs and firemen saved them.
were most concerned when two barges, loosed from their wharves, were blown into
the Sound with two women and three men needing rescue.
All major factory
buildings, machine shops, laboratories, storage buildings, etc. were destroyed.
them were three large three-story
brick buildings up to 300 ft. long, a metal- clad steel building 200 ft. long,
and a large two-story wooden building. Three tall chimneys, one 126 ft. high,
stood "like loyal, weary sentinels" over the jumbled kilns and smoldering,
twisted rubble. The office building survived, as did a small brick building
to the north
that still stands.
Started in 1792 as a small tidewater
gristmill on the eastern edge of Cove Island, Stamford Manufacturing
Co. grew to become Stamford's largest industry and the world's
largest dye extracting concern. At its peak in 1890 it employed about
500 workers, with state-of-the-art facilities on 70 acres at the
Cove, thousands of feet of mechanized wharves hosting big deep-sea
schooners, a shipping company with four schooners, and a number of
houses on Weed Street.
The mill's main products were textile
dyes extracted from exotic tropical woods, drugs from barks, tanning
extracts, and licorice paste used in drugs, brewing, tobacco and
confections. It acquired licorice farms in Asia and Europe. (in 1885,
15 million pounds of licorice root arrived in Bishop's Cove!) A mill
was built in Virginia for yellow dyes. In earlier years, the company
had owned a barite mill in New Haven and several barite mines.
Manufacturing Co. was
truly a pioneer in applying science to haphazard processes. In 1832,
age-old dyewood dyes were primitive, but very popular. Aggressive
research in critical areas such as mordants and process techniques
gave the company the lead in the accuracy, reliability and consulting
services sorely needed by the booming textile industry.
But in the early 1900's,
the company fell behind. Aniline dyes took over in textiles and tanning.
Drug extracts and the licorice
boom phased out. Reorganized as the Stamford Extract Manufacturing Co., the
owners discovered it was more important to own a market than a mill. On February
20th, 1919, they didn't even own a mill.
Cove Mill Photos