Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living

The Main California Powder Works Plant
by Barry Brown

Photograph of the Main California Powder Works Plant
The Main California Powder Works Plant
Photograph from the Paradise Park Masonic Club Collection, Santa Cruz, CA

The photograph above shows the heart of the first explosives manufacturing plant on the West Coast of the United States, the California Powder Works. This photo was taken sometime in the 1890s and contains over 30 buildings dedicated to the manufacture of blasting and sporting gun powder. This area is now in Paradise Park's Section 1. At the lower left, just above the Covered Bridge, is a Powder Works’ Steam Mill which drove much of the plant's machinery. Missing from the photograph, however, is the raised flume which had delivered water power to the plant because by this time, steam and electricity had made water power unnecessary (see the earlier photo below with the flume).

Photograph of the CPW Plant and Flume
The CPW Plant and Flume
Photograph Courtesy of The Museum of Art & History @
The McPherson Center, Santa Cruz, CA

Identifying the other buildings in the larger photograph today is difficult. However, we do know that most were used for refining the three ingredients for making gunpowder: potassium nitrate, sulfur, and charcoal. In addition, we know that there were cooper and hoop-pole shops for making wooden kegs, and there was a blacksmith's shop, a carpenter's shop, a foundry, a wash-up, and many storage sheds. Up to 250 men worked here during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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View similarly tagged articles:

dynamite, powder works, San Lorenzo River


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