Pinkerton's Comes to Granville (1885)


Pinkerton's Comes to Granville (1885)


In 1884/85 there was a rash of incendiary fires in the Granville Corners area. A "firebug" was suspected. With a significant portion of the Granville working population depending on Noble & Cooley for jobs there was growing concern about the economic consequences to the entire town if a fire were set at the big wood frame drum shop at the foot of Water Street.

James P. Cooley and his son Ralph ("R.B.") contacted the Pinkerton's National Detective Agency in New York City and arranged for a Pinkerton's operative to come to Granville under the guise of an insurance company investigator. The Pinkerton's man would investigate leads, declare the "insurance investigation" closed, return to NYC and report his findings.

There was one prime suspect (an 18 year-old whose name has been deleted from the file and replaced by "Mr. X"). The plan was that if Mr. X looked suspicious on the first visit, a second Pinkerton's man would go to Granville and "buddy up" to the suspect to see if he could get anything incriminating out of him.

Based on the file it looks like there was no second trip. There is no indication of an arsonist ever being identified. The file was closed with a note from Pinkerton's asking to be advised if anything further developed.

One has to wonder if there is more to the story. Perhaps information was uncovered that was never put in writing, and perhaps things were handled "locally" between Granville authorities and the parents of the young suspect, or an altogether different person was found to have been involved. We'll probably never know. Either nothing came of it, or it was handled quietly.

Sadly for Noble & Cooley their business burned down nearly four years later, on February 21, 1889. The blaze started late in the workday and arson was not suspected. Noble & Cooley rebuilt at their present location in Granville at 42 Water Street despite entreaties from several nearby much larger cities including Hartford, Springfield and Westfield to rebuild where they would be closer to commerce and rail transportation hubs. Loyal to Granville and the drum shop workers, N&C refused to move.

As for the suspected arsonist in the 1884/85 fires, "Mr. X" appears on Noble & Cooley payrolls in the 1890's so he was probably cleared after the Pinkerton's investigation, or suspicions were set aside and everybody moved on. He later became a house painter and died at the age of 38 when he was hit by a train.

Pinkerton's continued to be both famous and infamous for their investigatory tactics. By the 1890's they were still chasing down bank robbers, including the real-life Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. For more information on Pinkerton's click the link below.




Contributed by the Noble & Cooley Center for Historic Preservation, 42 Water Street, Granville, MA.


Digital Images: Copyright 2019, Noble & Cooley Center for Historic Preservation.


CLICK HERE for more information about Pinkerton's.


“Pinkerton's Comes to Granville (1885),” Granville History Digital Collection, accessed May 30, 2024,


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