An Eye on the Lower Muskingum: Explosion at Pattin Brothers
On the morning of Sunday, October 20, 1901, Douglas P. Pattin left his home at 501 Fort Street on the West Side of Marietta a few minutes before seven to check on something at his firm, Pattin Brothers and Company, 126 Second Street.
Even at the age of twenty in 1880, and still living with his mother, Anna, Pattin was a machinist. Later he joined with his older brother, Winfield Scott Pattin, and founded The Harmar Foundry and Machine Company during the late 1880’s. This enterprise expanded over the years and eventually the name was changed to Pattin Brothers and Company. A large, splendid building was constructed on Second Street in Marietta. This building measured 62 feet on the front, ran 180 feet back to the ally, and consisted of a basement and two floors. The first floor housed most of the machinery, including planners, turning lathes, shapers, and centering machines. The second story contained most of the stock and supplies. The basement contained rough iron castings. It was one of Marietta’s finest manufacturing establishments.
Once forty-two year old Douglas Pattin reached his building on the fateful day, he was met by two other men, Benjamin S. Slaughenhaupt and Edward Drumm. They immediately smelled a strong odor of gas and knew there was a leak. Pattin said he would find the leak, while the other two men, having secured what they came after, left the building to do their business that day. Within minutes a terrific explosion occurred that shook the whole city. Windows were blown out and items were knocked off the shelves in houses on the encircling block. A huge fire instantly engulfed the interior of the building. Quickly witnesses realized the roaring inferno was endangering the Marietta Transfer and Storage Company building which was just a few feet away. This building was full of inflammable hay and stray. The building also held 180 horses on the second story. In just minutes Mr. Drumm, who worked for the Transfer Company, led the horses out of the building to safety in the street.
The Marietta Fire Department fought the fire with twelve hoses and in an hour it was contained before it spread to any neighboring buildings. To everyone’s horror it was soon realized that Douglas Pattin had not been seen since the explosion. Several attempts were made by a dozen people to enter the burning building, but all efforts failed to locate him. Finally, after the fire was extinguished, Policeman Rolla Putnam discovered what was left of the body, which was burned beyond recognition. The legs and arms were almost completely burned away and the head and trunk were badly distorted out of shape. Later a careful examination was made of the area where the body was found. Mr. Pattin’s watch was found with the hands pointing to eleven minutes after seven, believed to be the precise time of the explosion. Other items were found including knives, a bunch of keys and other items, all identified as belonging to the dead man by his brother, W. S. Pattin.
It took five days to report the main details of this story (Marietta Register, Thursday, October 24, 1901). It took years for the community to recover from the loss of so much machinery, stock and a community leader.
This was not the end of the company. The next year an advertisement appeared in a Marietta Directory which reads, “Pattin Brothers and Company-Gas Engines, Shackle Work, Sheet Iron and Plate Work, Pumping Powers, Oil Well Supplies, General Repair Work and Supplies.” The company employed about 50 workers. It was still listed in a Marietta Directory in 1939.
Douglas was born on August 26, 1859, in Marietta, son of Lt. Col. Thomas J. and Anna E. Pattin. On September 30, 1885, Douglas married Mollie H. Hart, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Hart. One daughter, Hart Pattin, resulted from the marriage. Brother Winfield S. Pattin died in 1913. Both Douglas and Winfield are buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, but according to a Washington County Historical Society cemetery list on the internet, the last name is spelled Patten for the former and Pattin for the latter.
This story is a reminder of how truly fragile life is. Douglas Pattin had led a charmed life which was full of opportunities. Then, in an instant, his dreams were ended.
Phillip L. Crane, a Waterford resident and Marietta history teacher for 32 years, will share stories of historical events that occurred in the Lower Muskingum Valley. His column will appear every other week.