Williamsburg Public Libraries

Meekins Archival and Manuscript Digital Collections

Photographs

1874 (May 16) Mill River Disaster: Flood Stereographs

On the morning of May 16, 1874, the huge earthen dam holding back a 100-acre waterpower reservoir three miles above Williamsburg on the East Branch of the Mill River failed catastrophically, causing vast destruction and the loss of 139 lives in the factory villages of Williamsburg, Skinnerville, Haydenville, and Leeds. It was the worst disaster of its kind in North American history up to that time, and it made national news. The event was such a sensation that many thousands of gawkers and souvenir-hunters descended on the ruined villages by the trainload, turning the misery of bereaved and destitute families into a tourist attraction and helping themselves to anything they could carry away. Photographers from all over New England arrived in the stricken valley to record the destruction in stereographs, then the primary medium for disseminating photographs to a national audience hungry for images. An estimated 500 different stereo images of the disaster's aftermath were shot by at least 14 different photographers, and most were very widely reproduced and distributed. The Meekins Library collection includes at least 84 different views, all mounted on heavy cards for use in handheld stereo viewers.

The Meekins collection of stereograph cards chiefly documents the aftermath of the Mill River flood of May 16, 1874, that devastated the town of Williamsburg, Mass., and portions of the city of Northampton, Mass. It includes a few views of Williamsburg before the flood. The bulk of the collection consists of images taken by Knowlton Bros.; the other photographers represented are: A.E and A.J. Alden, Devine and Knox, J.A. French, Geo. H. Ireland & Co., and C. Seaver.

Definition: Stereograph--a pair of stereoscopic pictures or a picture composed of two superposed stereoscopic images that give a three-dimensional effect when viewed with a stereoscope or special spectacles. (From Merriam-Webster Oneline)

1874 Flood Stereograph Finding Aid.

Please credit the Meekins Library, Williamsburg, Mass., as the original source of the image for all use.

We welcome any additional information or questions you might have about an image in our collection. Please contact us.

You can reach the Meekins archivist and librarians with questions about Meekins collections at: meekins@cwmars.org or 413-268-7472.

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Last updated: July 2, 2013