Aiken's 1953 Gas Explosion

By the beginning of the 1950s, Aiken was well on its way to becoming a progressive and modern small town. For more than a century, it had been a destination for northerners who enjoyed the mild winters for golf and equestrian sports. Almost overnight, Aiken became the nearest town to the largest construction project ever undertaken in the United States, the Savannah River Plant. 1952 saw an influx of tens of thousands of people, and Aiken's downtown expanded to keep pace.

explosionThe early hours of January 27, 1953, began like every other weekday morning in Aiken. Residents went about their morning business—driving to workplaces, dropping children off at school. Then, the unthinkable happened.

A Blast Felt for Miles

At 8:30 a.m., an explosion caused by a natural gas leak ripped through the basement of Jones Electric Company. The building, located between Hayne and Richland Avenues on Laurens Street, burst into flames almost immediately. Soon after, the intense fire overtook four more buildings: McCreary Dry Goods, Liles Drugs, the Diana Shop and Platt Drugstore. All of these buildings burned uncontrollably within minutes of the explosion. People who lived in Aiken at that time compare the blast to a bomb hitting the town, and some reported that they could feel the shaking of the ground from miles away.

Aiken firefighters and medical crews rushed to the horrific scene downtown, but needed more assistance. Fire trucks and personnel from the Savannah River Plant drove 20 miles to help their newly adopted hometown cope with the disaster. As crews fought the fire, the cries of victims caught in the rubble could be heard. Earl Young and Ray Hydrick, two local men, pulled four people who were trapped in the debris to safety. Sadly, ten others lost their lives.

Firefighters finally extinguished the flames after several hours, revealing that almost an entire block of Laurens Street had been destroyed. It took several years to complete new construction to replace the buildings that were lost that day.

In Memory of Victims

Recently, a historical marker was erected on Laurens Street near where the gas leak that started the fire occurred. The inscription reads: "On this spot on Jan. 27, 1953, an explosion caused by a natural gas leak destroyed the Jones Electric Co. building and damaged Holley Hardware, Platt's Drug Store, R.W. McCreary's, The Diana Shop and Liles Drug Company. The explosion and ensuing fire left a gaping hole in the face of downtown Aiken. Ten citizens of Aiken were killed in the accident and are here remembered. They are Leila May Weeks, David O. Rutland, Emilie C. McCarter, John C. Watson, Charles Nelson Long, Mrs. R.B. Dunkin, John Henry (Jack) Neibling, James "Bubba" Moseley, Jack Holley and Ruth Madrey."

This Draft Has Sidebar Blocks
Sidebar Block 1
Aiken
Explosion

explosion

Firefighters finally extinguished the flames after several hours, revealing that almost an entire block of Laurens Street had been destroyed.

Sidebar Block 2
Sidebar Block 3
Sidebar Block 4
Aiken Regional Medical Centers is owned and operated by a subsidiary of Universal Health Services, Inc.(UHS), a King of Prussia, PA-based company, that is one of the largest healthcare management companies in the nation.        

Aiken Regional Medical Centers

302 University Parkway
Aiken, SC 29801
803-641-5000

PRIVACY POLICY / HIPAA STATEMENT / PHYSICIAN DISCLAIMER
© 2014 Aiken Regional Medical Centers. All rights reserved.

 

Note:The information on this Web site is provided as general health guidelines and may not be applicable to your particular health condition. Your individual health status and any required medical treatments can only be properly addressed by a professional healthcare provider of your choice. Remember: There is no adequate substitution for a personal consultation with your physician. Neither Aiken Regional Medical Centers, or any of their affiliates, nor any contributors shall have any liability for the content or any errors or omissions in the information provided by this Web site.          

The information, content and artwork provided by this Web site is intended for non-commercial use by the reader. The reader is permitted to make one copy of the information displayed for his/her own non-commercial use. The making of additional copies is prohibited.