Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living

The Press Mill
by Barry Brown

Photograph of the Press Mill
The Press Mill at the California Powder Works
Photograph from the John Carney Family Collection

In the photograph to the left is the Press Mill, located in what is now Paradise Park's Picnic Grounds. It was here that, Mill Cake, the soft gray paste made in the big Wheel Mills, was spread in 2in. layers upon 2ft. square copper sheets which were then covered with 2ft. square pieces of canvas. About forty of these layered trays were stacked and placed between the jaws of the Mill's hydraulic press and squeezed under 20 tons of pressure. The purpose of the process was to remove moisture and create a more compact and powerful explosive. The resulting product was called Press Cake. While compacting explosives under tremendous pressure was inherently dangerous, great effort was made to make the process as safe as possible. However, on June 8, 1907, the Santa Cruz Surf reported:

Photograph of the Press Mill after an Explosion
The Press Mill after an Explosion
Photograph from the Paradise Park Masonic Club Collection

An explosion occurred at the Powder Works last night, in which two of the oldest hands, Thomas Kearney and William Manseau, lost their lives. The Mill that went up was the black powder press, it being the first time an explosion of a press since the works were established in 1862. There were about 12,000 pounds of powder in the Mill at the time, which accounts for the loud report which was heard and felt for several miles. Mr. Kearney was found at the side of the heavy dismantled press, his wrist being hooked to a nail. He was 55 years of age, a native of Ireland and had resided in Santa Cruz for about thirtythree years. He leaves a wife and seven children. Mr. Manseau was thrown just outside the building, and an arm and leg were broken. William Manseau had been employed at the Works since a boy and was 40 years of age. His father, A. Manseau was one of the pioneer powder makers at the Works and retired a few years ago.

The Coroner's Jury returned a verdict of accidental death, and like so many accidents at the Powder Works, the cause of the explosion was never determined.

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View similarly tagged articles:

dynamite, powder works, San Lorenzo River


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