Santa Cruz County History - Making a Living

The Powder Magazine
by Barry Brown

Photograph of a Powder Magazine
One of the Powder Magazines at the California Powder Works
Photograph from the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History

The California Powder Works constructed 6 large storage magazines throughout the Plant during the 19th century. Unlike the brick Powder House nearby, (see Historical Marker #27) these magazines were made of redwood and corrugated sheet metal and were buffered from nearby buildings by massive earthworks. These magazines held from 30,000 to 50,000 kegs of explosives each and were connected by a narrow-gauge rail system that ran throughout the Works.

Having storage facilities relatively near manufacturing sites was a dangerous proposition since any accidents could ignite the powder stored nearby. So, after purchasing the adjacent San Lorenzo Paper Mill land in 1872, the CPW began shifting its storage facilities to this southern location. This placed most of the stored powder much nearer the town of Santa Cruz and the South Pacific Coast Railroad which expedited shipping. That decision had unintended consequences. Immediately after the great explosion of April 26, 1898, the ensuing fires burned out of control for three days and, after destroying most of the buildings in the Powder Mill Village, began moving south towards the powder magazines. This put the town in real danger. Fiery debris had already fallen on Mission Hill and it was felt that if the magazines went up, the whole town would surely be destroyed as well. The California Naval Reserves were called in to help fight the fires which were eventually extinguished but not before the citizenry of Santa Cruz began to voice concern about the wisdom of having an explosives manufacturing plant so near a growing population.

By 1914, the California Powder Works had left Santa Cruz consolidating its operations at the company's Hercules plant on San Pablo Bay across from San Francisco.

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View similarly tagged articles:

dynamite, powder works, San Lorenzo River


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