Esserville, 1930 – A “Blast” From the Past

Transcribed from the August 28, 1930 edition of the Richmond Times Dispatch

Dynamite Blast Tumbles Homes In Norton Area

None Killed or Seriously Hurt by Powder Explosion; Cause Is Mystery

NORTON, VA., Aug. 27 — (AP) — Forty cases of dynamite, set on fire by a representative of the DuPont Powder Company when he thought it had lost its power, exploded three miles from here at 11 A.M. today, sending school children tumbling out of their seats in the Esserville schoolhouse, one mile away, and making a detonation heard over a six-mile area.  No lives were lost, and no serious injuries resulted.

Four houses and a blacksmith shop were torn to pieces, two traveling men were knocked out of their car, and Mr. Numan, Bluefield, W. Va. representative of the DuPont Company, and Bill Stidham, Norton transfer man, who set the explosive on fire, were knocked senseless as they stood fifty yards away.

Faint From Strain

Early reports reaching here said that the 200 children in school at Esserville were either killed or maimed, and that the schoolhouse had been blown away.  Hundreds of citizens hurried to the scene and when they found that no great damage had been done, several women fainted, supposedly from nervous strain.

The explosives were stored in an isolated section of the woods near Esserville, and Mr. Numan came to Norton today to remove old dynamite which had grown useless through age.  He secured the services of Stidam and the two men removed forty cases from storage, piled it in a field, and set fire to it.

They had walked to the side of the blacksmith shop fifty yards away when the explosion occurred.  Although not seriously injured, both men were stunned and deafened temporarily.  The blacksmith shop, the property of the Christie Coal Company, was demolished.  The coal company’s tipple fell to the ground when the explosion rocked the earth.

A house standing fifty yards away, the property of a widow, Mrs. Worley Wells, was demolished, and her furniture torn to tiny bits.  Three miners’ cottages were blown to pieces.  Two traveling men, whose names are unknown, were knocked from their car as they were driving down a near-by road.

Cause Still Mystery

Damage to the schoolhouse at Esserville consisted of falling plaster and shaken foundations.  The school was built in 1928.  Cause of the explosion is still a mystery, the supposition accepted here having always been that dynamite, while a powerful explosive, will not be affected by burning.

Tonight, Norton people were attempting to explain it on the theory that when a stick of dynamite burns from one end only, no explosion results, but that when it burns from both ends and meets in the center, an explosion takes place.  Persons living in Blackwood, six miles from the scene of the explosion, said they heard the blast.


It happens now and it happened then – somtimes a story’s details are inaccurate as first reported. The DuPont Power Company was quick to clarify the situation. The following update was transcribed from the August 30, 1930 edition of the Bristol Herald-Courier…



In a dispatch from Norton, Va., published yesterday in the Herald-Courier, in which was described an explosion near Esserville, Va., of forty cases of dynamiter to which fire had been set in an effort to effect their destruction, it was erroneously stated that the explosives were the property of the DuPont Powder Company, which maintains a base not far distant.

It has been learned that the dynamite belonged to the Union Explosives Company and not to the DuPont Powder Company, and that two representatives of the former, Mr. Numan of Bluefield, W. Va., and Mr. Stidham of Norton, Va., supervised the destruction of the dynamite. Its unexpected explosion, in view of the fact that it was thought to have lost its strength after having been in storage for years, destroyed several small houses and a blacksmith shop nearby, and was heard for a distance of several miles. No one was injured, however.

C. D. Wood, a representative of the DuPont Company, stated yesterday that his company had handled more than three million pounds of explosives in that section within the past few years without an incident of any kind.

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