On July 29, 1903, an explosion rocked a neighborhood in northwest Tewksbury known as Wigginville, today a part of Lowell, on the banks of the Concord River. Alongside the close-packed residential neighborhood, two buildings stood between Billerica Street and the river in which the United States Cartridge Company, the American Powder Company, and Dupont stored dynamite and gunpowder. When the storage facilities had originally been built, the area had been uninhabited; but since then, a community of working class families had developed around it.
On that Wednesday morning, some canisters in one of the buildings began to leak nitroglycerin, and workers attempted to clean it up. The cleaning solution they used caused a chemical reaction with the nitroglycerin which resulted in an explosion, and subsequently ignited the gunpowder stored in the other building.
The resulting devastation completely leveled 13 nearby homes and damaged 67 other houses in the neighborhood. 22 people were killed, including employees at the storage facilities. The incident became known as the Riverside Park Explosion or alternatively the United States Cartridge Company Explosion. An investigation found the town of Tewksbury and the companies equally at fault for not ensuring the explosive material was stored elsewhere after the neighborhood became populated, and the United States Cartridge Company and the American Powder company settled 170 claims of damages.
The Tewksbury Public Library’s Local History Collection includes a copy of the 1903 report on the Explosion as well a selection of photographs taken of the area after the devastation. You can view scans of these materials below:
- Report of the Riverside Park Explosion, Tewksbury, Mass. 1903.
- Foldout map of the explosion site from the report
- Riverside Park Explosion photographs, 1903.
Read coverage of the explosion in The Lowell Sun:
- "25 Were Killed and 100 Injured," The Lowell Sun, Wednesday, July 29, 1903
- "Big Death Roll of the Disaster," The Lowell Sun, Thursday, July 30, 1903
- "Other Victims of the Disaster," The Lowell Sun, Friday, July 31, 1903
- "Search of the Ruins," The Lowell Sun, Saturday, August 1, 1903
- "Ruins Visited By Over 75,000 Sympathetic Visitors Yesterday," The Lowell Sun, Monday, August 3, 1903
- "Over $10,000 Mark: Relief Fund Grows Slowly But Steadily," The Lowell Sun, Saturday, August 8, 1903
Read more about this event:
- "Riverside Park Explosion of 1903," Tewksbury Historical Society
- "110 years ago ... 1903 blast killed 22, injured 70," by Larz F. Neilson, Tewksbury Town Crier, January 5, 2013
- "US Cartridge Company," Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust
Thank you to Nancy Reed of the Tewksbury Historical Society and Kim Zunino of the Lowell Historical Society for their assistance.