Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower



Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

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Jan 10

The Dangers of the Powder Mills (Part III)

Posted on January 10, 2020 at 1:06 PM by Melissa Dalton

This week, we conclude our discussion of the history of Goes Station and the powder mills. Powder mills were a popular industry in the years leading up to and after the Civil War, and many saw it as an opportunity to make some great profits. However, the industry came at a dangerous, and many times, deadly cost.

According to many articles and papers, mill workers were well paid for their work due to the potential danger of the job. This did allow the mill owners to secure ample employees. They were told to wear shoes without nails (or only work in socks), not carry any metal objects, and to only use wooden tools. Although these precautions may have stopped some disasters, many still occurred.

As we learned in a previous blog, the Austin brothers, along with Benjamin Carlton, formed the Austin & Carlton Powder Company in 1846, converting the old scythe factory into a powder mill (Fig 1). Within a few years of the mill opening, it experienced several explosions, killing at least 5 people. An article in the Xenia Torchlight, dated 29 November 1849, claimed that it was the “fourth time in two years the mill has exploded.”

Fig 1. Greene County AuditorTax Duplicate, 1845 (JPG)
Fig 1. Greene County Auditor Tax Duplicate, 1845 (Greene County Archives)

In 1855, Joseph W. King purchased the Austin & Carlton Powder Co., renaming it the Miami Powder Company. Under his watch, the Miami Powder Co. experienced great expansion, building new facilities and increasing machinery. As the business grew, so did the small town of Goes Station. According to a few articles, company-owned homes and stores popped up in the area to provide housing and services to the employees.

In the early years, the Company was producing roughly 4000 kegs of rifle powder and 1300 kegs of blasting powder. The start of the Civil War brought an increased need for powder production, and the Miami Powder Co. supplied the Union Army with black powder. At the height of the War, they were producing more than double their usual annual totals, roughly 10,000 kegs of rifle powder and 3800 kegs of blasting powder.

According to several sources, the mill converted from water to steam power in 1871 (Fig 2). Within a matter of years, in 1877, King sold his shares and started a new powder mill in Kings Mill, Ohio, leaving the Company in the hands of the other partners.

Fig 2. Plat of Land of the Miami Powder Co., Riddell Vol. 2, p. 27 (JPG)
Fig 2. Plat of Land of the Miami Powder Co., Riddell Vol. 2, p 27 (Greene County Archives)

However, even with different management and increasing security measures over the years, it did not protect the large mill site from explosions (Fig 3). Between 1860 and 1885, there were at least 15 men killed in explosions at the Miami Powder Company. According to some sources, upwards of 42 men were killed at the site by 1886. Then in 1886, the Company experienced its most destructive explosion. Around 10:00am on March 1, 1886, the boiler in the dry house, which was housing thousands of pounds of powder, exploded, which ignited the powder housed inside. The building was ripped to shreds, leaving a crater about 10 feet deep where the building once stood, and killed the 3 men working in the building. Trees were uprooted, windows blown out, nearby homes and bridges were damaged, and the explosion was felt from Cincinnati to Columbus (Fig 4).

Fig 3. Washginton Galloway Diary, 1872 p. 34 (JPG)
Fig 3. Washington Galloway Diary, 1872, pg 34 (Greene County Historical Society)

Fig 4. Article from the Xenia Evening Gazette, March 1, 1886 (JPG)
Fig 4. Article from the Xenia Evening Gazette, March 1, 1886 (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)

After the explosion, the Company rebuilt and work continued; however they did have difficulty finding employees (Fig 5). The Miami Powder Co. sold the property to Aetna Explosives in 1920. Aetna only owned it for a short while, selling to Hercules Explosives Corporation in 1921. In 1927, the property was transferred to Hercules Powder Co. (appears to be same company, but under new name).

Fig 5. 1910 Sanborn Map of the Miami Powder Co. Mills (JPG)
Fig 5. 1910 Sanborn Map of the Miami Powder Co. Mills (Greene County Room)

It appears that the owner of the Hercules Powder Co. decided to stop producing at Goes Station, and closed the powder mill in 1922. However, in the last 36 years of its existence, the mill wasn’t free of disasters. From what we can gather through old newspapers and Greene County records, there were at least 10 more explosions, which killed approximately 12 people. There are some that claim there was one final explosion that destroyed many of the buildings, prompting the owners to close and sell the business. However, we were unable to locate anything to substantiate this claim (even though it wouldn’t be surprising due to the history of the mill).

After the mill was abandoned, it stood empty for several years. In 1929, E.H. Hunt bought the property, comprising over 350 acres, but had no plans to use the property for anything more than investment purposes (Fig 6). In 1944, Hunt sold the property to Dr. W. A. Hammond. It appears the land stayed in the family for several decades, and was sold to Hydebrook Farms, LLC in 2002. Today, all that remains of the mill are a few lone buildings.

Fig 6. Xenia Daily Gazette, January 10, 1929 (JPG)
Fig 6. Xenia Daily Gazette, January 10, 1929 (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)

Until Next Time!

Sources:
Greene County Archives
Greene County Historical Society
Greene County Room
NewspaperARCHIVE.com

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