The Vagabond is starting a new series about the iron ore mines around the Gadsden area and how they got started. There are some surprising histories to be found.
On Oct. 28, 1908 at 8:15 p.m., an explosion of 400 cases of dynamite was so terrific that almost every plate glass front in downtown Gadsden was broken. Twenty-four miner houses in the vicinity were leveled to the ground, and many others were damaged. The blast was heard as far away as Altoona and Hokes Bluff.
The whole city went into panic, and the explosion boosted attendance at a revival then being held at the First Baptist Church.
The explosion happened at the Hammond Mining Company inside the city limits of Gadsden and occurred at the point of Shinbone Ridge on Tuscaloosa Avenue near the T.A.& G. Railroad.
The blast was caused by a fire in the machinery room at the mouth of the mine, the explosion coming just before the arrival of the firemen. A few minutes later, the blast would have killed many firemen.
The 40-member fire department responded to an alarm of a house on fire near the mine magazine. Hundreds of spectators were standing nearby when the explosion suddenly occurred, and everyone within a wide radius was hurled to the ground.
The company kept its main stock of dynamite a half a mile away in Owl Hollow. The explosives were brought to the mine each day, just enough for the next day’s operation.
The blast completely destroyed the machine shop and almost shattered the commissary building just across the street of Tuscaloosa Avenue.
The watchman and foundry man, Henry Keil of Rome, Ga., was killed, and several others in the neighborhood were hurt. Stones were blown entirely through the body of Keil, and no trace could be found of Arthur Hood.
Believed at the time to be fatally injured was Jake Logan, member of the Gadsden Fire Department. Those injured were fireman Mack Ferrell and fire department chief Gus Woodliff.
A number of women and children standing in the vicinity of the fire were more or less injured but carried home.
The blast had a peculiar effect on the uptown area. Every second story window on Broad Street from Fourth to Fifth Street was shattered, and the glass fell outward to the sidewalks. One could not walk anywhere on either side without stepping on pieces of glass.
Property damage amounted to $9,000, which is over $220,000 in today’s economy.
On Nov. 16, of the same year, Gus Woodliff, the fire department chief for 16 of the last 18 years resigned due to deafness suffered as a result of the Hammond Mine explosion. The Gadsden City Council passed a resolution thanking Chief Woodliff for his service, stating that under his direction the city had saved some $6,000 per annum.
A gold medal was bought for Chief Woodliff by the firemen, and the city bought him a gold watch and chain valued at $150. Chief Woodliff’s retirement ended the era of the Hammond Mine explosion.