Thursday, July 28, 2016

On This Date in Minnesota History: July 28

July 28, 1911 – Fire that presumably originated from an overheated motor, resulted in an explosion of the flour dust in the sack room this evening, practically wiping out the Winona, Minn., plant of the Bay State Milling Company, entailing in a loss of fully half a million dollars. The industry was the most substantial one in Winona and employed a total force of 200 men. The company was the fourth largest producer of flour in the U.S. and its plant was one of the most modern in the Northwest.

The fire broke out just as the day shift was planning to cease its work and the night crew was coming to work. The defective motor was discovered and a small fire corralled when a terrific explosion took place in an adjoining room on the north side of the ground floor of the main mill building. The alarm was spread immediately and all men reached a place of safety before the flames cut off escape. The fire department was handicapped because of the lack of water pressure due to the low stage of the river and with every available piece of fire-fighting apparatus on the scene it became necessary to send a call for assistance to La Crosse and Eau Claire. Both fire departments responded quickly.

A few moments after the firemen arrived, the flames had spread through the east end of the mammoth mill and broke through the roof, where they were fanned by a high wind.

The fire swept through the entire structure and an hour after the alarm was sounded, the building was engulfed in flames that were licking the adjoining structures. Two partly filled elevators, having a combined storage capacity of 300,000 bushels of wheat were in danger and the smaller of the two caught when the conflagration was at its height.

The entire business section of the city was threatened for a time and numerous small fires broke out many blocks from the plant. The fire was under control at 9 p.m. with only one elevator and the office building remaining of the plant.

Bay State Milling Company*

The Bay State Milling Company represented capital of Boston men. B. J. Rothwell of Boston was president; L. S. Brown, Boston, vice president, and H. C. Garvin of Winona, secretary-treasurer. The mill was purchased in 1890 by the Bay State Company and it was enlarged and improved to an output of 3,500 barrels. The loss is covered by insurance.

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune; “Big Winona Milling Plant Is Destroyed by Flames. One Elevator and Offices All That Remains of Bay State Works. Loss Is Estimated at Half a Million; Insured—Firemen Handicapped.”; July 29, 1911; p. 1.


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