BINGHAMTON, NY – 108 years ago, on July 22, 1913, the town of Binghamton faced the deadliest event in our history.
A monstrous fire started in the basement of the Binghamton Clothing Company, a 4 story factory on Wall Street that made men’s overalls and jeans.
The fire soared up the stairs, trapping those on the 3rd and 4th floors.
NewsChannel 34 spoke to former Broome County historian Gerry Smith about the event.
The Binghamton Clothing Company was owned by Reed Freeman and employed around 100 people.
All the factory workers were women waiting for two. Most of the workers were also immigrants.
Freeman’s wife also worked in the factory.
Unlike the New York factories at that time, the Binghamton Clothing Company did not employ children. Some of the workers were young, maybe 16 or 17, but Freeman didn’t hire any children.
The factory participated in fire drills and other security measures that were in place at the time. Smith says many women did not like participating in the exercises, due to being cursed outside the building. Women were also required to wear long outer woolen skirts, which were removed once inside. The exercises forced the women to put on uncomfortable clothes, and refusal to do so may have been the cause of death.
The fire and the victims:
In 1913, the Binghamton Fire Department was only half a block away. There was also a firefighters convention in town on July 22. The fire ravaged and collapsed the entire building within 15 minutes under the gaze of thousands of people, unable to help them.
Due to the incredible spread of the fire, the department was unable to offer much help.
Of the 100 workers, 68 managed to escape, many with burns and injuries.
31 perished in the fire.
Of the 31, 19 bodies were unidentified and are buried in Spring Forest cemetery.
Those who died appeared to have returned for personal items or had attempted to jump out of the windows on the upper floors. Some workers did not realize that the alarms were not an exercise and ignored them.
There were two fire heroes – Nellie Connor and Sidney Dimmock.
Nellie was the 3rd and 4th floor supervisor and helped guide her workers to safety.
Sidney was a man who took building trips to save women, including Nellie.
Both perished in the fire.
The wife of the plant owner, Reed Freeman, tried to contact the fire department and eventually came out, judiciously grabbing the register of people in the building.
The cause of the fire:
The official cause of the fire is still unknown.
In 1988, Reed Freeman’s granddaughter and a co-author published a book on the events.
The book alleges that an employee committed arson.
The fire started in the basement, and it is also possible that the rags and chemicals kept there created the fire.
Either way, Reed Freeman believed he was responsible for the fire.
The Binghamton Clothing Company caught fire just two years after the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City.
After the two closely related tragedies, New York State began reviewing fire safety measures.
All buildings then had to have a fire extinguisher as well as an emergency staircase.
Freeman believed he was responsible for the 31 deaths of his workers for the rest of his life and worked to raise funds and pay families.
In 2013, the town of Binghamton erected a plaque in honor of Nellie Connor and Sidney Dimmock, as well as the victims of the fire.
The plaque was destroyed some time later in an act of vandalism, and in 2021 the city’s parks department replaced and reinstalled the memorial.