On the side of the road in the industrial part of the meadowlands lies a single smokestack. Most drive by, many don't notice it, nor do they notice the memorial on the side of the road for it. But it's at this site where a major fire took place a century ago.
It was January 11, 1917, when a fire started in Building 30 of the Canadian Car and Foundry Company in Kingsland , which has now been renamed Lyndhurst. All it took was 4 hours to erase the massive plant off the map. The residents of New York City watched across the harbor in horror as 500 000 pieces of explosive shells were set off .
Canadian car and foundry was a company based in Montreal and although America was not yet involved in the war, it set up a plant in New Jersey for the production of war ammunition.
There was major speculation as to the source of the fire even going as far as to say it was sabotage from the German government. The plant had been set up to assemble weapons for shipment to Russia. It was later discovered that the fire started at the bench of one of the workers, Fiodoe Wozniak who was said to be surrounded by rags. On the bench in front of each employee was a pan of gasoline and a small rotating machine operated by a belt. It is said when the fire started he tossed what looked like water on top of the flames although no one knows where the water came from.
Germany never admitted guilt but paid America reparations.
As per lyndhurst historical society:
A heroine emerged the day of the fire. Kingsland resident Tessie McNamara, who operated the company switchboard, was credited with saving many lives. As the fire raged on, Tessie stayed at the switchboard that Thursday afternoon. She plugged in each of the buildings and shouted the warning, “Get out or go up!”
Thanks to her dedication, no one was killed in the fire.
Escaping workers were able to cross the frozen Hackensack River or run up Valley Brook Avenue to safety. The National Special Aid Society later presented Miss McNamara with a check to honor her for her bravery.
The Lyndhurst Historical Society has created a vest pocket park dedicated to her memory. The park is located on Clay Avenue, between Valley Brook Avenue and Wall Street West.
As I step up on the viewing platform and look out into the marsh I notice something jutting out from the water. It is a single smoke stack, the final reminder of the factory and the events which took place.
The destruction at the Kingsland Explosion, found on Youtube, uploaded by Critical Past
July 20 2015
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura Gonzalez is a photographer, blogger and historian currently residing in Newark, New Jersey.