Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living



The Powder House
by Barry Brown

Photograph of the Powder House
The Powder House at the California Powder Works
Photograph from the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

Photographs of the Powder House Walls and Floor

This photograph of a cocky "Powder Monkey" outside the brick Powder House (now 132 Keystone Way) was taken in the late 1880's and shows the narrow-gauge railroad tracks connecting the San Lorenzo Paper Mill property, acquired in 1872, to the main California Powder Works plant further up river. The building is 25ft. wide and 110ft. long with walls 14in. thick. The 12ft. high walls are constructed of sand-mold low-fire brick laid in three courses with an air gap between to promote natural air flow (Fig. 1). The bricks used in this building quite possibly arrived in Santa Cruz as ballast for sailing ships. This was a common practice in those days. To avoid sparks from nails, the floor, made of 7in. wide boards laid on a 3ft. granite foundation with 4x6in. underpinnings, was put together entirely with wooden dowels (Fig. 2). The outline of powder kegs can be still seen where they rested on the floors.

According to the History of the Explosive Industry in America, this unique building was used as a storage magazine for as many as 30,000 kegs of gunpowder. The roof was made of corrugated sheet metal and was designed to give way in an explosion thus directing any blasts upward and away from other buildings, workers, and people traveling on the Toll Road (built in 1868, now Route 9), and the Santa Cruz & Felton Railroad (built in 1875), both located on the nearby hill to the west.


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dynamite, powder works, San Lorenzo River

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