ebook  History of Watertown, Wisconsin


Hill & Taylor


Vulcan Iron Works


Otis Hall & Co




The first of three fires within a period of less than two months occurred on the Sunday morning of May 20, 1855, at about a quarter after midnight, the cluster of buildings known as the Vulcan Iron Works, situated on South First Street, were discovered to be on fire.  As soon as the alarm was given, citizens hurried to the spot, doing all in their power to put the fire out and save as much property as possible, all the while performing their role as protective neighbors and a hastily assembled crew of amateur firefighters.


Notwithstanding these strenuous exertions and good intentions, the most that could be done was to rescue a portion of the machinery belonging to the iron works company and to prevent the heat, which at times was intense, from setting surrounding buildings on fire.


Among the neighboring businesses in greatest danger were, on the one side of the iron works, the Turning Shop of Chaney & Son, the Fork Factory of Parkhurst and the Door, Sash and Blind business of Enos Salsich on the other, together with several smaller buildings used respectively as a blacksmith shop, office and storeroom, and residential dwelling house. 


In the second story of the main building of the Vulcan Iron Works, Mr. J. M. Bryant had a joiner's shop. 


The assumption was that the fire originated in the room where the castings were kept.  The buildings were wood and, being tinder dry, the flames spread rapidly and generated heat that soon became intolerable.  It was fortunate that there was no wind for if there had been it would have been impossible to have confined the flames within bounds and the result would have been far more disastrous.


No less than five large iron lathes of different descriptions, along with most of the machinery and tools for running them, were entirely ruined.  All the iron patterns, which were very valuable and in daily use, were totally destroyed, as were a good number of the wooden ones. 


A brand new lathe, which had been purchased and was received the day previous to the fire, was saved in light of its still being outside of the building, awaiting installation.  The whole establishment was reduced to a smoldering heap of ruins. 


The race through which water flowed for the operation of the City Flouring Mills, owned by H. W. Blanchard, was also destroyed.  The loss of the race prevented the running of the mill for about ten days. 


Mr. Blanchard made it possible for the Vulcan Iron Works to set up two lathes in the old Yellow Mill, which were in working order later the same week.



  CROSS REFERENCE:   Blanchard would fall off the roof of his Yellow

      Mill in 1870 while watching the Empire Mill burn and his injuries

      would prove fatal.  The Blanchard Mill burned in 1880.



In addition to a variety of castings and manufacture of machinery, all kinds of wood work were accomplished at the Vulcan Iron Works.  Threshing machines and all their parts, such as bull wheels, cylinders, jacks, etc., were produced there.  Repairs of every kind were considered to be carried out in the best manner and accomplished in the shortest time.  It was to the benefit of those who purchased a piece of machinery to be able to get it mended as the same place where it was originally manufactured. 


A Disastrous Fire

The Vulcan Iron Works Destroyed

Watertown Democrat, 05 24 1855

Last Sunday morning, about a quarter after 12 o'clock, the cluster of buildings known as the Vulcan Iron Works, situated on First Street, on the East side Rock River, were discovered to be on fire.  As soon as the alarm was given, our citizens hurried to the spot - many of them doing all in their power to put it out, and save such property as was most exposed.  Notwithstanding these exertions, the most that could be done was to rescue a small portion of the extensive and costly machinery belonging to the concern, and to prevent the heat, which at times was intense, from setting on fire the surrounding buildings.


Among those in greatest danger, and to save which the most strenuous efforts were required, were the Turning Shop of CHANEY & SON, and the Fork Factory of PARKHURST, on the one side, and the Door, Sash and Blind of ENAS SALSICH on the other, together with several smaller buildings used respectively as a blacksmith shop, office and storeroom, and dwelling house.


The VULCAN IRON WORKS, owned and carried on by J. S. DUTCHER & Co., were one of the most extensive establishments of the kind in the state, west of Milwaukee.  The fire is supposed to have originated in the room where the castings were kept.  The buildings were wood, and being perfectly dry, the flames spread with great rapidity, and at the same time produced a warmth that soon became intolerable.  It is well that there was no wind for had there been anything like a powerful breeze, it would have been impossible to have confined the flames within the bounds they were kept and the result would have been far more disastrous.


As it is, the loss has been heavy and embarrassing, and a great inconvenience must be caused by this event.  No less than five large Iron Lathes of different descriptions, with most of the machinery and tools for working them, were entirely ruined. All the iron patterns, which were very valuable and in daily use, were wholly destroyed, and also great portions of the wooden ones.  Most of the caps intended for Mr. D. Jone’s Brick Block, now in course of construction, shared the same fate.  As nearly as can be ascertained, thirty tons of castings have been lost.  A new Lathe, which has just been purchased and arrived on Saturday, was saved in consequence of its being left out of the building, there being no one to put it in when it came.  With the exception of the few things saved while it was possible to get at them, the whole establishment is now a smoldering heap of ruins.  The loss will be felt severely by the proprietors, and all connected with the establishment as workmen, and the whole community.


The value and advantage of such a well supplied and well conducted establishment is never really appreciated, until some such disaster as this takes it away.


Some twenty industrious and skillful mechanics are thrown out of employment for a time at least.  Many who were having various kinds of machinery cast will be disappointed and compelled to wait until the thing can be set agoing again, or got at a distance somewhere else, which will necessarily involve delay and additional expense, and our city will long feel the effect of this deprivation.


In the second story of the main building of the Vulcan Iron Works, Mr. J.M. Bryant had a joiner's Shop.  In this room were all his tools, stock, and work got out ready for putting up.  The whole was lost, without insurance.  Mr. Bryant was busily engaged in getting stuff out for several buildings.  By this event his business will be arrested, and at this season of the year, when there is so much to do, it must be particularly embarrassing to him and others who were depending on him for work.  He estimates his loss at $800.


O. Miller, C. B. Gardner, F. V. Zandar, lost most of their joiner tools, which amounts to about $150 each.  Several other individuals, employed about the premises met with small loss.  Mr. Calvin Cheney removed all his furniture from his house, which at one time seemed in great danger, but it was ultimately saved.


The race through which flowed the water that supplied the City Flouring Mills, owned by H. W. Blanchard., was also destroyed.  This break will stop the running of time mills for about ten days.  Mr. Blanchard has already commenced the repairing of the race, and it will be vigorously prosecuted until finished.


We understand that it is the intention of the proprietors, with as little delay as possible, to gather together the fragments they have snatched from the "devouring element," and immediately go to work again - doing what they can in their present crippled condition until they can make arrangements to resume operations on their former extensive scale.


As the sudden destruction of this establishment is a public as well as a private calamity, we hope our prominent manufacturers, merchants, capitalists, businessman--in short, every citizen who takes an interest in the permanent and continued prosperity of the place, will promptly step forward and do what is necessary to enable those who have so largely suffered to rebuild the works.  The real loss by this fire must be SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS, and at the least calculation which is covered by insurance of $1,000, in the Milwaukee Home Insurance Company.


Since writing the above, we learn that the proprietors of the Vulcan Iron Works with genuine Western enterprise and energy, has made arrangements with Mr. Blanchard for setting up two lathes in the with old Yellow Mill, which will be in working order some time this week.  The Foundry will also be in "full blast" again in a few days.  It is no more than just to say that Mr. Blanchard, fully appreciating the importance of such an establishment to the community, has cheerfully done everything in his power [to] aid it in again starting business with the least possible loss of time.



Watertown Democrat, 07 05 1855

As we are on the ground, we might as well say a word about the Foundry.  It will be gratifying to many to know, that the works are again in full blast, that "VULCAN," the stalwart god of the Forge, will continue to preside over his order.  A temporary moulding room has been constructed and a kupola set up.  The bellows are propelled by a borrowed power from the adjoining premises.  The proprietors have used every exertion to meet the demand for their work, and have succeeded beyond their expectations.  They have two engine lathes running, and are prepared to do all kinds of iron finishing, and to furnish promptly castings of any description -- their wooden patterns having been mostly saved from the conflagration.


In the meantime, it is their intention to erect, on the rear of the lot, a fine fire proof building for a machine shop, thirty by sixty feet, and three stories high.  They will also put up a foundry on the front of the lot, forty feet by forty.  The walls will be brick or cement.  A black smith shop is to be built in the rear.


The finest bulk head in the city has been erected there.  It looks very substantial, and we hope it may prove so through high and low water and all other changes that may take place.


The present operators of the Vulcan Iron Works are worthy of all encouragement.  They have born up manfully under the loss of all they had in the world and have gone bravely to work, to retrieve what was scattered to the winds in a single night of disastrous fire.  The people of Watertown should aid them substantially, as their establishment is of more value and importance to the city than any one other in its period.



07 28          [advertisement]  The largest foundry and the largest machine shop, West of Milwaukee, where all kinds of work are done to order in the most workmanlike manner, and at the lowest cash price.  The Vulcan Iron Works, Watertown, Wis., are an old establishment and have run constantly through the hard times of the last two years, and will continue to run (Providence permitting) for years to come, and anyone wishing machines of any kind, will be able to get their wants supplied at short notice and as cheap as elsewhere.  The first and most important branch of this establishment is the threshing machine business connected with it:  No better Threshing Machines are built in this or any other state, and for finish, workmanship and quality of material they are unsurpassed.  We have a lot now on hand ready for sale.  All kinds of repairs in the same line will be made at short notice.  All the different parts of machines like bull wheels, pimas, bevel and jack gear, elevators, shoes, fans, beltings, buckets, etc., constantly on hand.  We have a large lot of patterns for saw and grist mill work, and are prepared to do any job in that line that may be wanted.  Saw arbars, gummers for cross cut and circular saws, on hand and made to order.  We hold ourselves in readiness to do all kinds of work in our line to the entire satisfaction of any reasonable man.  Our term is cash or its equivalent.  We call the especial attention of farmers to our threshing machines and hope they will examine them before purchasing elsewhere.  We are also agent for the best scrall saw in use and have a number on hand. 


F. E. Shandrew & Co.  Watertown, July 28, 1859    WD


07 28          The Vulcan Iron Works of this city are among the most extensive and best establishment of the kind in this state, and deserve the favor and patronage of the people amongst whom they are carried on.  No better work can be found anywhere than is made at this foundry.  Threshing machines of a superior kind, which experience has proved to be more serviceable and reliable than any found elsewhere, are here manufactured, and farmers in this vicinity will find it vastly for their interest to purchase these indispensable and labor-saving implements at this well-furnished and well-organized shop, for the reason that by doing so, they will always have a place where they can get their repairing done when anything is out of order, as such events will sometimes happen.  We are glad to know that these works have become one of the standing institutions of our city, as they are a great benefit to the whole community.  All should make it a point to give them all the encouragement and support they can in the way of business.  This is all that is necessary to render them successful and permanent.   WD




03 08          The co-partnership heretofore existing under the name and firm of F. E. Shandrew & Co. is this day dissolved by mutual consent.  All the book accounts and notes due to and from said firm will be settled by Otis Hall & Co., who will continue the business, as heretofore, at the Vulcan Iron Works.


F. E. Shandrew

Otis Hall

Watertown, Feb. 11, 1860    WD


06 14       Vulcan Iron Works / Present Proprietors are Otis Hall & Co.  

We do not believe in mythology; we repudiate the idea of gods or any other invisible being superintending the temporal affairs of man.  Such a belief is so absurd, so nonsensical, that we solemnly aver our most unqualified disbelief in any such doctrine, and still we feel somewhat as the man did, who said he knew that Universalism was true.  He was positive it was, in fact he said there was not a doubt of it in his mind.  “But,” said he, “I’d give my oxen if I was sure.”


So a person cannot be so sure in regard to anything, but that his faith may be a little staggered at times.  How is it that the Vulcan Iron Works have run constantly, for the last three years, without the smiles and approbation of “Old Vulcan” is a little mysterious.


We are not so sure.  We would not state positively, in fact, we are half inclined to believe, that in this instance, an exception to a general rule might be introduced, and not deny the fact, although unwilling to admit it, that he has in all his august majesty presided over that institution and kept the wheels in motion.


There has been hardly a day but that we might hear, as we passed by, the rumbling of the wheel, the blowing of the bellows, the ring of the anvil and buzz of the saw.  Tokens of thrift and industry, that moves on year after year, giving employment to the hardy mechanic and the honest day laborer, supplying the means of subsistence to hundreds who earn their living in the only honest way—“by the sweat of their brow.”


The present proprietors are Otis Hall & Co., and all the work is done under the immediate supervision of Otis Hall, who is a practical mechanic of long experience.  And here we wish to say to those whom necessity compels to have work done in their line, they are thoroughly prepared to execute orders in the very best manner possible, having all the necessary tools and machinery for that purpose.


They are just now finishing up some of the best Threshing Machines we ever saw—and we consider our self a judge—machines that may have equals, but not superiors in this country.  Trucks, Straw-Stackers, etc., are complete.  And we deem it of the most decided advantage to farmers living in this vicinity to purchase these machines in preference to those made in other localities.  By so doing, they save a large amount of time and money, in being able to get their machines repaired near home, where they keep constantly on hand a large supply of materials for that purpose and hold themselves in readiness at all times—night and day—to accommodate those who patronize them.


We are satisfied that with the facilities, energy and skill of the proprietors, together with the aid of “Old Vulcan,” (although we would not have it understood that we invoke his aid, but we would not openly object) this establishment must prosper.   WD




Messrs. Hill and Taylor, two intelligent and skillful mechanics, have established and are now carrying on a system of iron works on the west side of the river in this city.  They have ample facilities for furnishing all kinds of castings and their long experience in this line of business enables them to do their work as perfectly as it can be done anywhere.  An examination of some of the specimens they have recently turned out will give those having occasion for their services the most favorable opinion of their means and ability to fill all orders with the greatest accuracy and promptness. 


They have engaged in a useful and important branch of home manufacturers, well calculated to add to the business and prosperity of our city.  They can supply castings for any kind of machinery and we feel confident they will give entire satisfaction to all who deal with them.  It is a great convenience to have such an institution in our midst and we hope our community will cheerfully give it the encouragement to make it successful.   WD


12 24          EAGLE FOUNDRY

We venture the assertion that there is no iron foundry in this state where better work is done than at the one in this city carried on by Messrs. Hill & Taylor [James Hill].  Their castings of every description are the admiration of all who have examined them.  They are skilled and experienced mechanics, possessing a thorough and practical knowledge of all the details of their business and give their personal attention to whatever they undertake. 


A few days since they turned out two of the largest kettles ever cast west of Buffalo, nothing equaling them in size ever having been attempted in Milwaukee or Chicago.  They are now manufacturing a superior box stove, being large, durable and handsome.  They give steady employment to twenty hands in the various branches of their establishment and their business in rapidly expanding.  We warming commend this home institution to the favor and patronage of the public.  Anything in the shape of casting can always to promptly obtained there, and all orders from abroad punctually met.   WD



03 24          FOUNDRY SALE

J. A. & O. Hall have sold their extensive foundry and machine shop on the east side of the river to Hill & Taylor, who will hereafter carry on the establishment.  Hill &Taylor are skillful and enterprising mechanics, thoroughly acquainted with all branches of their trade and will no doubt carry on a successful and profitable business.   WD



J. A. & O. Hall advertise a few of their unsurpassed threshing machines for sale in this paper.  These machines were manufactured in this city under their care and supervision and all who have tried them pronounce them fully equal and in some respects superior to any other now in use.  They are strong, durable, easily run, not so liable to get out of repair, and do their work fast and thoroughly.  This is the testimony of those who have experience in this matter and should commend these necessary and labor-saving inventions to the preference of our farmers.  Those purchasing them can still have repairing done at the shops where they were built, by Hill & Taylor, who now carry on the iron works in this city.  They are skillful mechanics and no better work is turned out anywhere than theirs.


10 27          A NEW CANE CRUSHER

The Vulcan Iron Works of this city, under the management of Messrs. Hill & Taylor, are becoming one of the most extensive and important of the industrial interests in our city.  They are largely engaged in the manufacture of agricultural implements, and the quality of their work is not surpassed.


Last week we visited their establishment and found a number of our citizens deeply interested in witnessing a series of tests which were being applied to a new and powerful machine for crushing sugar cane — the invention of Mr. A. B. Stevens, formerly of Vicksburg, and more lately of Madison, in this state, who was present and conducting the experiments.


Our knowledge of a cane crusher is not very large, but we have seen a few in operation, and understand that the thing to be accomplished is the getting out of the cane all its juice, which requires severe squeezing.  This we infer from the tough, wiry nature of the material used in these experiments, and certainly if great power is necessary, the “Favorite,” as it is called, should rank among the best of its kind.  At all events, we do not think its superior exists.  Brush, bits of wood, knotty grubs, and even seasoned hickory hoops fare alike in its Herculean embrace, and come out reduced to chaff at a single operation, while green cane just from the field was so dry that it burned readily after having once passed through the mill.


This mill may be described as being constructed upon entirely new principles in which the whole crushing force of the rolls are brought to bear upon two massive wrought iron stirrups at each end of the rolls.  These stirrups hold firmly the bearings of the upper rolls, and extend downward to a heavy cast iron bed plate upon which the lower rolls have their bearings.  At this point they are secured to powerful iron levers, which holds the upper roll down to its work by means of heavy iron weights suspended at the outer ends.  These levers serve the same purpose in their way as a safety valve on a steam boiler and are set at a pressure sufficient for grinding the cane, but allow the top roll to yield to any undue strain that would break an ordinary mill at the first trial.  Again the stirrups can be adjusted in a moment to any angle so that of a given force applied to them by the levers, one-half, five-eighths, three-fourths, or even nine-tenths can be exerted upon the discharge side, where the greater pressure is of course desired.


Practical men will readily understand the advantages of this arrangement, as well as of the iron bed-plate, which renders it impossible for the mill to change its form by the settling of the foundation, or any other cause, which gives so much trouble in other mills.  Mr. Stevens informs us that this principle is not confined to horizontal mills alone, and that he will have in a few days a vertical mill working on the same principles.




Hill & Taylor are now manufacturing a large number of that useful and popular agricultural implement, Fowler & Bacon’s Broad Cast Seed Sower.  Last week they shipped fifty of these machines to Minnesota and will send twenty five more this week.  The rapidly increasing demand for these machines shows that both their real merits and actual superiority to all others are becoming more generally understood.  It is just the thing for the farmer, and Hill & Taylor know how to make them strong, durable and serviceable.   WD





1866-67 Watertown City Directory



Cross References:

     The Vulcan site was that of the first murder in Watertown, that of Thomas Bass.  

Bass and his two companions lived in a small shanty south of Main Street on

the site later occupied by the Vulcan Iron Works.




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History of Watertown, Wisconsin