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John McGraw & Co., Mill & Salt Works. (1872)
Mill was located in Portmouth (now Bay City, MI), owned by John McGraw from Ithaca, N.Y.

  • Feb. 29, 1872: Major expansion at the mill.
  • Aug. 8, 1872: Fire totally destroys mill.

    Transcribed Feb 2007.

    Bay City Journal -- Thursday, February 29, 1872.

    Messrs. John McGraw & Co.

    The Detroit Post of Tuesday contained the following in its Bay City correspondence , the Enterprise adopted it as originally:

    “Mssrs. John McGraw & Co., are making some very important improvements in their mill property, and when completed they will have the most extensive lumber and salt manufacturing establishment in the valley. They have just completed a brick planing mill and intend to have it in running order in twenty days. The main portion of the mill is 30x100 feet in dimensions, and so arranged that lumber will be taken in on one side from scows, and shoved out the other and loaded on to cars. The engine and fuel-room just back of the mill is also of brick, and is first-class in all its appointments. The mill itself will contain eight or nine planers, and it is the intention of the proprietors to draw all of their lumber as fast as it is manufactured and ship it in that state. A large force of men are at work constructing a mammoth salt block, which, with the one built last season, is expected to have a capacity of 300 barrels per day. The Flint and Pere Marquette Railway have completed their branch track to the mill so that the facilities for shipment of both lumber and salt will be excellent. This mill property, teeming with life as it is, bears quite a contrast to the same spot three years ago, when there was nothing there but an unbroken marsh, assessable only by boats. It is now rapidly assuming the condition of terra firma.”

    Note: "Terra firma" means on solid ground.

    Transcribed Feb 2007.

    Bay City Daily Journal -- Thursday, August 8, 1872.


    McGraw & Co.'s Sawmill, Salt Blocks and
    Planing Mill Entirely Consumed.

    Five Million Feet of Lumber Destroyed.

    Yesterday afternoon a fire broke out in the mammoth sawmill of McGraw & Co., situated south of Portsmouth, and before it could be checked it swept $470,000 worth of property out of existence.


    started in the fire room, and was first discovered about 4:40 o’clock, and almost within an instant after the spark dropped into the sawdust, the entire mill was in flames. So rapidly did it sweep through the building that men were obliged, in many instances, to leap for their lives out of the windows and of the platforms. The engineer could not remain by his post, and hardly had he left when the engine exploded with a fearful crash. The flames went from this point rapidly along the tramway and into the lumber that was piled on each side. There were two tramways of lumber at the mill. The one next the mill, known as the east tramway, was the one destroyed, and contained about 500,000,000 feet, all of which was consumed. Long before the lumber pile was entirely gone the flames swept along from the mill and caught one of the salt blocks in its devouring grasp. About this time the alarming report was circulated that,


    were in the drill house adjoining and would explode in twenty minutes.” The caused an intense excitement and a general stampede. The people scattered in all directions, the engines were moved to a place of safety, and the devouring element raged on fiercer than ever. The salt block was destroyed, together with 8,000 barrels of salt quicker almost than it takes to write it, and the flames caught the tower of the drill house and went downwards with a flash and that building also became a prey to the fiery monster. At the same instant that this drill house was consumed, the planing mill, an elegant brick building with two large and commodious wings, caught fire on the roof of the west wing, and burned with an intensity unsurpassed, communicating from this to the south wing (both of wood) which was filled with dry planed lumber, and which burned furiously and speedily, making probably the hottest fire of the conflagration. The flames licked and lapped each other high up in the air with a roar like distant thunder. It became immediately patent to every mind that


    were in imminent danger. A barn standing near the planing mill was most immediately in the line of flame, and the exertions of the firemen and citizens were turned toward saving that. Had this barn burned, nothing would have saved the boarding house and seventeen or eighteen other buildings that stood almost in the immediate vicinity, and in direct range of the flames. The residents in these houses, however, considering the fate of the buildings as being inevitably sealed, removed all of their furniture to a place of safety, so that not a house that was in the least danger contained a dollar’s worth of movable property. Weak women and strong men worked side by side in this terrible struggle.


    worked nobly to subdue the flames. The Portsmouth engine was on the ground almost as soon as the fire was discovered, and worked admirably well. The Neptune reached there as soon as it was possible for it to do, and took an admirable position between the piles of lumber, where it could undoubtedly have done much toward controlling the flames, had it not been for an unfortunate accident that burst one of its flues. This necessitated its retiring, which it did, but by seven o’clock it was again on the ground and doing effectual service. The Wenona engine, too, was on the ground and did most effective and admirable service. The firemen actually fought the fire inch by inch, but human might nor human ingenuity could not stay the onward course of the devouring element, until, little by little, it seemed to exhaust itself. The engines undoubtedly save all that was saved of the hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of property belong to the firm of McGraw & Co.


    can be summed up about as follows:

    Saw mill, including machinery - $100,000
    Salt Block - 50,000
    Planing mill, including machinery - 100,000
    Drill House and engine - 5,000
    8,000 barrel salt - 12,000
    5,000,000 feet lumber - 203,000
    Total - $470,000

    On which there were only about $200,000 insurance, and that was entirely on the lumber on the dock. The only thing saved from the buildings burned were a planing machine, several circular saws, and some few small tools, although the men did their best to save more.


    The flames spread so rapidly through the mill that before the men had got fairly out, the floor gave way and the machinery was precipitated below. The alarm about the naptha was to a certain extent groundless, as the tank containing the combustible material was deeply buried under the drill house and entirely out of the reach of the fire. The wind was blowing most of the time very fresh from the south and southwest, and consequently endangering the entire village. The sawdust and edging roads around the mill caught fire and burned with considerable avdidity. The sparks would light upon the sawdust and in an instant a blaze would make its appearance, so dry was everything. Many of the houses caught fire on the roofs from falling sparks and cinders. At a distance of nearly half a mile from the conflagration, the woods caught fire and burned with a smokey lurid flame. The railroad was in considerable danger at times, as were also several cars that stood near, but the yard engine “Pioneer” was on hand and did effective service in extinguishing the flames. One of the most magnificently beautiful, yet sadly solemn sights we ever witnessed, was the lurid flames seen from the dock near the river, about dust, as they curled and twisted heavenward through the smoke like so many mammoth firey serpents fight for the mastery.

    In the line of accidents, we are happy to say we have but a few to record, and those were minor affairs. At one time a rumor was afloat that a man was on the tramway bridge when it went down and was killed; and again, that several men were missing and had probably been consumed in the flames. These reports were groundless. A man named, William Hage, from heat and over-exertion, was very low and at one time was not expected to live, but through the exertions of Dr.’s O’Toole, McPherson, Taylor, Tupper and others, he was at last accounts out of danger. A raftsman name George Bush was working on the Portsmouth hose, and was struck by some one unknown to him, cutting a fearful gash in the back of his head. Whether this was done accidentally or otherwise we could not learn. One or two other men fell from the buildings they were endeavoring to keep moist, but were not seriously injured. Aside from this no accidents of any account happened.


    were probably the most complete of any in the United States. The mill was built about three years ago at an immense expense, and contained every convenience and all improvements. The salt block was one of the most improved stream evaporation works and had only been running this season. In one of the drill house that was burned the engine had just been set up and had not run at all. The senior partner in the firm of McGraw & Co., is Mr. John McGraw, who resides at Albany, where, we understand, he now is, suffering from an attack of sickness.

    Probably two hundred and fifty men are thrown out of employment by this conflagration.

    Transcribed Feb. 2007

    Bay City Journal -- Friday, August 9, 1872.

    Further Particulars of the Portsmouth Fire.

    The fire as stated yesterday started in the fire-room of the engine house. The sawdust had been allowed to accumulate in such quantities, that it was piled up side of the building as high as the rafters. The firemen stepped out a moment, when a spark from the fire flew out onto the sawdust, which had become quite dry, and the flames spread very rapidly, reach the rafters and ceiling of the fire-room in an incredibly short space of time.


    were the magnificent sawmill with its entire contents, the new and model planing mill, two salt blocks, two drill house, one black-smith shop and one ice house, all of which were totally destroyed in less than two hours. In addition to this destruction of buildings, five million feet of lumber and a large number of settling vats and tanks were destroyed.


    would aggregate about as we gave them yesterday, but we made the estimate too high on some and not high enough on other property destroyed. The following is a corrected list of the losses:

    Saw mill, machinery, etc. - $150,000
    Planing mill and machinery - 120,000
    Five million feet of lumber - 100,000
    Six thousand bbls. slat - 10,000
    Salt block - 35,000
    Drill houses 5,000
    Ice houses and blacksmith shop - 3,000
    Total - $423,000

    On which the insurance was very small.

    We could gain but little information relative to the insurance, but understand that neither the mill or planing mill were insured. The blacksmith shop, ice house and drill houses were insured for $5,000 in the North America. There was an insurance of $175,000, covering all the lumber on the dock, mostly in New York companies. By reference to the table of losses it can be seen that only about $100,000 will apply on losses.


    Among the property saved, were about 4,000,000 of lumber on the outer dock, all the tenement houses, seventeen in number, the large boarding house, the large barn, a large double drill house, the large brick storehouse and stores (of which there was a large stock) an old kettle block, now used as a storehouse and other property amounting in the aggregate to perhaps $100,000 to $150,000.


    A Visit to the scene of the terrible conflagration yesterday, revealed a sight painful in the extreme. Strong men with smoke blackened faces sweltering in the heat of the sun and fire, blindly picking their way through clouds of smoke, were pulling timbers, machinery and household goods away from the slowly approaching flames. Women almost exhausted busily rendered assistance, and giving words of encouragement where most needed; old folks and children nervously watching their friends and relatives in their efforts to stop further destruction.

    During the entire day, yesterday, the area devastated by this terrible holocaust was completely enveloped by a thick close of smoke so dense that it was with the greatest difficulty that human beings could do anything in the shape of work in the vicinity; as it was, there were three persons so exhausted with labor and prostrated by the heat and smoke that they were obliged to receive prompt medical assistance. The names of the persons afflicted were Jas. Dow, foreman, Mr. McDonell and John Conway, Mr. Conway and Mr. Dow being for some time in very precarious conditions, and had it not been for the careful skill of Dr. Clark, they would undoubtedly have died. However, last night at seven o’clock they were each in a comfortable position. Yesterday was spent in digging ditches from the railroad east, on the south side of the barn and the tenement houses, in order to cut off the burning of the slabs, edgings and sawdust, of which the entire foundation is made, and which is slowly yet surely burning – the firemen being unable to reach the fire with water. It was thought that these ditches would prove successful in stopping the progress of further destruction, and that if the bard, boarding houses, tenement house and remaining salt block were watched closely no further loss would occur. Men were busy all day carrying water to extinguish the flames in the fields adjoining and to prevent the fire from reaching the woods.

    As we pass up the river one devastating mass of blackness, smouldering flame and smoke meets the eye with nothing to relieve the intensity of the scene but two tall chimneys, the cast wall of the planing mill and the ruins of the engine house, a few ghastly monuments in commemoration of the terrible conflagration that raged there but a few short hours before.

  • Related Notes & Pages

    McGraw Mill

    John McGraw
    John McGraw primary business was in lumbering, which is what brought him to Bay City where along with his friend, Henry W. Sage, alto from Ithaca, built the world's largest mill in Bay City in 1865. John a few years later sold out his interest in that mill to Henry and built a new mill on the opposite side of the Saginaw River. See his history page for further details --
    Bio: McGraw, John
    About McGraw & Co.

    {View City Map}

    The mill was located south of the village of Portsmouth along the Saginaw River west of Harrison street, between 40th & 41st streets, the area is now a part of Bay City. After this fire John McGraw had the mill rebuilt at which many claim was the largest in the world, exceeding the West Bay City mill that he and Sage built in 1865. After John died in 1877, the milled passed into the hands of his nephew, Thomas H. McGraw, and the mill operated as ther T.H. McGraw & Co. The mill close some time before 1898, when the North America Chemical Company acquired the property and set up operations that lasted until 1928.

    Related pages:
    McGraw Mill
    McGraw, John
    North America Chemcial Co.
    People Referenced
    Bush, George
    Clark, Dr.
    Conway, John
    Cook, A.J.
    Dow, Jas.
    Hage, William
    McPerson, Dr.
    McGraw, John
    O'Toole, Dr.
    Taylor, Dr.
    Tupper, Dr.
    Subjects Referenced
    Albany, NY
    Black shop
    Board house
    Circular saws
    Detroit Post
    Drill houses
    Engine house
    Flint Pere Marquette Rwy.
    Ice house
    Kettle block
    McGraw & Co.
    Neptune engine
    Planing mill
    Portsmouth engine
    Salt block
    Saw mill
    Tennent houses
    Wenona engine
    Feb. 29: Other News on Page.

    Mrs. Cunningham, a fair, frail one, decidedly but not correspondingly fair was arrigned before the Recorder yesterday, charged with keeping a house of prostitution. This woman, it appears, in company with her daughter, keep a house at the corner of Jefferson and First streets. Until quite recently, a third woman has been stopping there, but left a few days since. The woman wept, she promised to do better in the future. But all of no avail. The Recorder fined her ten dollars and required two dollars costs, and gave her to understand that should she ever appear before him again she would be severely dealt with.

    Never did our city present a more fitting appearance than at present. Improvements, in one shape or another, are being made in every quarter. New business blocks are in process of erection, new dwellings are being built, old ones are receiving repairs, and other signs of thrift and enterprise are every where apparent. That at no distant day Bay City will become the business center of Northern Michigan, is a fact conceded by all, except our Saginaw neighbors, who still insist that the "little village over the bar" is the place, and always will be.

    Arrangements are being made, say the Detroit Post, for calling a reunion of the "State Association of Soldiers and Sailors" in Detroit on the ninth of April next, the day of the unveiling of the monument. The hour and place will be hereafter published by the committee. Steps will be taken to secure, if possible, an amendment to our militia laws, so as to encourage the volunteer force of the State to organize; to adopt a constituion and to perform such of the business as the interests of the veteran soldiers of the State may require. All soldiers and sailors who served in the late war are invited to be present.
    Aug. 8: Other News on Page.

    At about eight o'clock last evening the whistle of Eddy & Avery's mill, on Water street, blew the alarm of fire. Fortunately the streets were filled with passers by who promptly rushed to the rescue. The fire was caused by the burning out of the smoke stack of McDowell's foundry, and had it not been for the steam force pump at Eddy & Avery's mill, which threw a very nice stream of water to the top of the smoke stack, there would undoubtedly have been another large conflagration. As it was there was no damage done worth mentioning.

    Sage's mill in Wenona was discovered to be on fire at about the same time the fire at Portsmouth was discovered. The Wenona engine put in a prompt appearance and in a short time put the fire out, they thought, but were obliged to re-unreel their hose to put out a fire discovered in the cupalo, which they did in short order. The dame done was slight.

    The fire yesterday, at East Saginaw, destroyed two salt blocks belonging to the East Saginaw salt works. One block was running and the other idle. They were both fitty kettle blocks. Seven hundred barrels of salt in bines were also destroyed. Loss from $8,000 to $10,000 partially insured. The fire either caught from the arch or smoke stack.

    On Tuesday night the mill of Brooks & Adams, in Salzburgh, caught fire near the smoke stack. The flames were discovered, however, before they got well under headway, and were promptly extinguished. The loss was merely nominal.

    Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the steamers L.G. Mason and Geo. W. Reynolds will carry excursion parties of five or more to Pine River for the very low fare of $1.00 for the round trip. Here is a chance to enjoy a fine ride and the fresh breezes of the bay at the cheapest possible rates. It is a ninety-two mile ride.

    The Enterprise tells the following story of a young Greeleyite from Bay City, who was in East Saginaw Tuesday, flabbergasting Liberalism about that city, and was apparently slightly disgusted at the reply he got from a Grant man:
    "You see" said the young Chappaquack-quack-quack, "down in Bay City the Liberals have just come on piling in on us, and we had to shut down on 'em this week. We don't take any now unless they bring certificates of good moral character and perfect sanity."
    "Well," said the Gran man, "that's a good thing. But its lucky you didn't apply that test before our fellows went over to you. If you had, you wouldn't have got a durn'd one of 'em."
    Internet References
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  • WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.