May 1, 2020

The Curator’s Log: The HMCo. Watchmen

The Men of Herreshoff: The Watchmen

The Men of Herreshoff: The Watchmen

May 2015

The Herreshoff Manufacturing Company (HMCo) employed watchmen at night and on Sundays for fire safety and security. Also when an America’s Cup boat was being built a sentry box was placed at the entrance to the construction shop and “Woe be to the prying newspaper reporters and others who attempt to get into the shops without a pass”.1 Usually their work went unnoticed, but when something did happen, it often found its way into the pages of The Bristol Phoenix.

In the week before launching of the 1895 DEFENDER, and under the headline “A PICTURE AT ANY COST”, the newspaper recounted the rough treatment received by newsmen in their attempts to view the vessel. Unable to get by the sentry box manned by watchman Capt. Wilcox the interlopers made several attempts from the waterside:2

• On Sunday a number of young men swam over to the south shop and went underneath the building to take a look at DEFENDER. Capt. Wilcox “showered rivets on them until they were glad to leave”.

• On Monday a news artist in a two-man boat obtained a good sketch of DEFENDER through the open shop launch way doors while being pelted unsuccessfully with spikes and other missiles thrown by workmen. After attempts to turn a steam hose on the boat failed, the workmen readied buckets of coal tar to douse the men and their boat. The two men departed just in the nick of time. This was all witnessed by John B. and Capt. Nat Herreshoff who were “very angry” they could not prevent the sketches.

• On Wednesday another approach by two men in a boat to get a photo of DEFENDER through a slit in the launch way door was foiled by deploying a steam hose from a steamer at the HMCo piers.

• On Thursday “a man with a camera in his sleeve and a heart for any fate” gained access to the pile driver laying the new ways for launching DEFENDER. Before he could operate his camera he was pulled bodily from his boat by a slip noose thrown over him from the windows of the small sail loft overhead. He was then subjected to a plunge bath in the harbor before extricating himself from the lasso.

In 1903 a Providence newspaper under the headline, “ATTEMPT TO BURN RELIANCE” reported “a leak out of Bristol” that someone had tried to start a fire in the wooden south construction shop where RELIANCE was being readied. Late the Monday evening before the launching workmen found a candle burning in a socket on a heap of greasy overalls.  [Candles were being used at the time to provide light for riveting below decks.] The watchmen were alerted and the next evening a heap of overalls was found near the same place under the staging built up around RELIANCE, but this time the candle was unlighted. A police investigation developed no evidence of a firebug and the candles were attributed to “carelessness of someone in the shop”.3

Sometimes the watchmen themselves were the subjects of a news article. On December 30, 1912 William F. Munroe, a watchman for nearly 14 years, was found dead in his chair in the watchman’s house of the boat shop.4 Capt. Nat, who almost never mentioned an employee in his diary, wrote, “Watchman William Munroe died in his chair watching.”5

At 2 AM on the morning of July 18th, 1917, HMCo night watchman James Barry arrested a German citizen, George Arno Rudolph Krausse, for suspicious actions around the plant that at the time had several government war contracts. On questioning, Krausse offered that he had come from a logging camp in Maine, had walked from Providence to Bristol and was on his way to New York to find work.  Directed to go north on Hope Street he continued to loiter around Burnside and Burton streets until arrested. Nothing of suspicion was found on his person other than evidence of prior military service in a Berlin Province Calvary Troop.  On questioning by police he admitted to having been arrested several times in this country as being a spy suspect. He was sent to an internment camp near Boston.6

A special thanks to Norene Rickson and her volunteers who have been researching The Bristol Phoenix on-line archives for articles about the Herreshoffs, the HMCo. and the employees of the HMCo.

John Palmieri - Curator Emeritus

K. K. H.. DeWolf, Herreshoff Marine Museum Archives

1 The Bristol Phoenix, Feb. 1, 1895

2The Bristol Phoenix, June 28, 1895

3 Curator’s Log June 2013, Nathanael Greene Herreshoff and the America’s Cup: Part Eleven- Revisiting the Launch of RELIANCE: Arson and Skirts

4 The Bristol Phoenix, Dec. 31, 1912

5 Diary Nathanael G. Herreshoff, Dec. 30, 1912. Access courtesy of Halsey C. Herreshoff.

6 The Bristol Phoenix, July 20, 1917