Stockton, NJ Dynamite Explosion, May 1888

A Terrific Explosion In A New-Jersey Stone Quarry.

Philadelphia, May 17.-The most terrific explosion ever known in New-Jersey took place this morning near Stockton, Hunterdon County, N.J. Three hundred cans of blasting powder and 250 dynamite cartridges exploded and killed one man, injured six others, demolished a dozen buildings, and wrecked the town of Stockton, on the Belvidere division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, 19 miles from Tranton and 34 miles from this city. James Wafer, the foreman of S. B. & E. N. Twining’s brownstone quarries, went into the powder magazine at 7:25 o’clock and told Assistant Foreman Peter Hoffman that he was going to get a can of fine powder, and that he would have to move the cans of coarse powder in order to get at the fine powder, which was on the bottom.

Two minutes later there was a great cloud of white smoke, a belch of fire 50 feet high, and a noise like a hundred thunderstorms. The powder magazine, which was 12 feet square and 10 feet high, was shattered into toothpicks. Foreman Wafer’s body was blown into a thousand pieces. A hole 10 feet deep and 12 feet square was all that was to be seen where the magazine had stood. Fifty cartloads of dirt and rocks went up with the little building. At the same time a dozen buildings within a quarter of a mile were demolished. A barn north of the magazine was blown out of sight and the hay and debris went up in a blaze that only lasted a few minutes. The quarry blacksmith’s shop, 100 yards away, was torn to splinters, and nothing was left to mark the spot except two anvils and a bellows.

James Dean and Thomas Lawler, blacksmiths, and Thomas Corcoran, a stonecutter, were at work in the blacksmith’s shop. They were blown about 50 feet and picked up in the debris. Corcoran’s hands were badly burned and his face was cut and his right hip injured. Dean and Lawler were bruised about the head and arms. James Brown, one of the engineers, was running a derrick engine 500 yards to the south, down in an excavation. He was picked up and blown over the roof of the engine shed, and landed on his hand on a sand bank nearly 50 feet away. He as not hurt. William Dilts, another engineer, who was running an engine 1,000 yards away, was taken up in the air and landed on a coal pile on the other side of the engine shed. He had two ribs broken. John McCloskey, another engineer, was carried fully a hundred feet and found himself, when he became conscious, lying in an apple orchard to the west of the magazine. Thomas Smith, who lived in a big brownstone house 500 yards away was hurled around his sitting room. His wife and five children were cut abut the face and hands by flying dishes and broken window panes. A bucketful of pieces of Foreman Wafer’s body was picked up, and Undertaker Horner of Stockton took the pieces of bones and flesh to Lambertville and buried them in the Catholic burying ground.

A mile from the quarry lies the little town of Stockton, where the 700 inhabitants live in about 100 pretty houses. All but about a dozen houses were damaged. Some of the houses were left without windows, doors, or shutters. On the main street some of the houses were so badly wrecked that the people moved their furniture out into the streets, boarded up their houses, and took refuge with their neighbors. When the explosion came women and children, some of the half naked, ran through the streets shrieking and wringing their hands. One hundred and forty men were working in the quarry. Most of them are married and live in Stockton. The women, thinking every man in the quarry had been killed, ran up the town to the scene of the explosion, expecting to find husbands, fathers, or sons blown to atoms. The village was deserted until late in the afternoon. The women were afraid to go back and enter their homes. Thousands of broken dished were thrown in piles in the middle of the street. Across the Delaware, in Bucks County, Penn., nearly opposite the quarry, nearly a mile away is the little village of Centre Bridge. Half a dozen houses were left without any window panes. Joshua Pierce, a prominent manufacturer of Bristol, which is 25 miles from Stockton, felt the shock while eating his breakfast. The force of the explosion was felt all over Bucks County. Houses in New-Brunswick, N.J., 36 miles away, were rocked by the explosion. The country within a radius of 30 or 40 miles was shaken by the force of the explosion. Stephen Twining, one of the owners of the quarry, was writing in his office at Yardley, 14 miles away, and felt the shock.

An agent of the Dupont Powder Works visited the quarry in the afternoon and told Stephen Twining that he though Foreman Wafer must have spilled some of the powder and ground it under the heel of his boot, and that it ignited. Foreman Wafer was 40 years old, a quiet, industrious man, well liked by all the people in the village. He was to have been married next Thursday in Lambertville by Father Brady, the Catholic priest of the place, to Minnie Murray, a pretty, rose-cheeked girl not yet out of her teens.

New York Times, New York, NY 18 May 1888