Explosion Rocks City of Lancaster

John Schofield Brasee was a well-known lawyer and prominent citizen of Lancaster in the 1800s. He was a graduate of Kenyon College, an expert in railroad law, a master of the Greek and Latin languages, a lover of literature and history, and became a leader of the Lancaster Bar. He helped usher in a new generation of successful lawyers to take the place of legal giants such as Thomas Ewing, Henry Stanbery, Hocking Hunter, and his father, John Trafford Brasee. However, in 1892, all of John Schofield Brasee’s work almost blew up in his face…literally.

Historic photograph of John Schofield Brasee, attorney and resident of Lancaster, Ohio circa 1890s.

John Schofield Brasee, attorney and resident of Lancaster, Ohio circa 1890s.

John Brasee lived on the southeast corner of Mulberry Street and Columbus Street with his wife Anna, and four children, Charles, Trafford, Anna, and Clara. They had a beautiful brick mansion that was three stories tall and stood just north of the English Lutheran Church. Besides a gorgeous facade, the home also had modern conveniences such as natural gas heating. This convenience, however, soon turned into a nightmare.

A “T” section of natural gas pipeline located at the intersection of Mulberry Street and Columbus Street broke and began leaking. Underground and hidden from view, nobody was aware of the leak or that the gas was now flowing into a new sewage line. This sewage line slowly transported the gas into the basement of Brasee’s home.

During the early morning of Monday, January 18, 1892, John Brasee was in his home’s office reading. A flame shot up from a heating grate and he hurriedly retrieved water from their well and put it out. Brasee then went to the basement to investigate and smelled gas. He went back upstairs to find that the grate had once again ignited. Again, he put out the flame with water and planned to call the Lancaster Natural Gas Co. later that morning. Brasee chose not to wake his family and sat in his office with his eyes on the grate.

The next place he would find himself was in the middle of Columbus Street.

At 6:30 am, the leaking gas ignited the home’s natural gas heating system which caused a catastrophic explosion. The explosion was so severe that it could be heard in Bremen, Pleasantville, and other parts of the county.

John Brasee was blown onto Columbus Street and buried up to his knees in a mass of bricks and lumber. A large piece of lumber had hit his head causing blood to run down his face which prevented him from seeing.

Lewis Palmer, a member of the Ohio National Guard, happened to be walking by the area at the time of the explosion. He heard a rumbling sound that he described sounded like a cannon discharging underground. Lewis noticed Brasee in the middle of Columbus Street and went to pull him out. He was then taken to a nearby home where he was treated by Dr. John Goss and Dr. Clarence Goss.

John Brasee’s wife, Anna, was asleep on the third floor at the time of the explosion. She woke to find herself falling and landing on debris on the first floor. She was able to pull herself out of the rubble and began calling for her husband and children. Walking barefoot through the snow, Anna noticed a small fire. She grabbed a bucket, filled it with water at the neighbor’s home and quickly put it out.

The two daughters, Anna and Clara, were also asleep on the third floor. Just like their mother, they had fallen to the first floor and were buried in rubble. The two sons, Charles and Trafford, had a bedroom located at the back of the home away from the explosion. They could hear their mother and sisters yelling and went to investigate. They found Clara and were able to pull her from the rubble right away. However, it would take a half-hour and several people to free Anna.

Miraculously, all members of the Brasee family survived. Other than cuts and bruises, they escaped without serious injury.

Several neighboring properties were also damaged in the explosion. Windows of several homes were destroyed, chimneys were knocked over, and all of the stained glass windows at the English Lutheran Church were shattered. The church also lost all of their shutters and damage to their structure was estimated at $2,000.

Following the event, the Brasee family moved to Fifth Ave. and John remained there until his death in 1905.

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Filed under: Histories & Mysteries, Life, News, People
Michael R. Johnson, marketing director for the Fairfield County Heritage Association based in Lancaster, Ohio.

By Michael Johnson

Lancaster native Michael Johnson is the Marketing Director for the Fairfield County Heritage Association and serves as editor of the Heritage Quarterly – a magazine highlighting local history. Michael is a member of the Sherman Rotary and the Lancaster Fairfield Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee. His bachelor’s degree in history education was earned at Ohio University. Michael is married to Tara Johnson and has two children, Isaac and Mia.