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Austin Powder Company

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Austin Powder Co. in 1870
Austin Powder Co. in 1870
Location of Austin Powder in relation to Harvard Ave. and the Five Mile Lock(The thumbnail image doesn't display properly, nor does the intermediate sized one. When you click in this box, be sure to look for the link to the full-sized image which is 1800x1800)
Location of Austin Powder in relation to Harvard Ave. and the Five Mile Lock
(The thumbnail image doesn't display properly, nor does the intermediate sized one. When you click in this box, be sure to look for the link to the full-sized image which is 1800x1800)

The firm, formerly known as the Cleveland Powder Company, was purchased in 1867 by the Austin brothers of Wilmington, Vermont. The purchase covered 400 acres, some of which would later be the sites of Alcoa Aluminum and Republic Steel. The powder mill was located at the Five Mile Lock on the Ohio Canal. This was where Harvard Road descended down the hill towards Jennings Road.

It was the scene of a powerful explosion in March of 1875. In all, fourteen mills blew up that day. The following are some reports made in the days following the explosion.

Three men died in the blast:
All three were buried in Lot 94, Tier N1/2 at Denison Cemetery. Probably a common grave since so little of the bodies could be recovered after the explosion.
The mill also was reported to have exploded on the exact same day, only three years earlier, on March 16th, 1872, and also in 1907.

"The Austin powder works, five miles from Cleveland, Ohio, blew up yesterday with a series of loud explosions, and the ten or twelve buildings were completely demolished, and three men killed. Windows in Cleveland were shattered, and houses shaken as if by an earthquake, and terrible excitement existed for a while."

"Brooklyn Daily Eagle", Brooklyn, NY, March 17, 1875

"...the scene of the fearful catastrophe in [March]. Some thirty or forty tons of powder blew up, shattering windows and injuring walls from five to ten miles distant.
It rung a farm bell forty miles off. Was plainly felt near Pittsburgh one hundred miles off, and yet some houses quite near to the disaster were not injured, and people not over two miles south did not hear or know it. The explanation is in the state of the wind and the situation of the mills. The mills are in a ravine, perhaps sixty to eighty feet below the general level of the country. The force of the explosion followed down the ravine to some extent as if fired in that direction. But probably the wind had the most to do with the result. It was a day of fearful wind, gusty and violent so as to make it dangerous to roofs and houses."

--"The Diary and Letters of Rutherford B. Hayes, Nineteenth President of the United States", edited by Charles Richard Williams (Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State Archeological and Historical Society, 1922), Chapter 31

Three Men Torn into Atoms
"At one o'clock on Tuesday afternoon of last week, the citizens of Cleveland were startled by a shock which caused the strongest buildings to tremble, followed by another, and another, in rapid succession, until four distinct shocks were felt. For a moment the terrified inmates of the buildings thought they were visited by an eartquake direct from Chili, and many rushed into the streets to avoid being crushed by the buildings. As most of the effect was visited upon the large windows, many of which were blown in, scattering fragments of broken glass upon the floors it was soon known to be caused by an explosion, which relieved their fears, and the next query was, what was it that exploded? Quite a number of Elyrians were in the city, and they describe the shock as terrible and startling.
In a few moments a cloud of white smoke that was seen in the direction of the Austin Powder Works, five miles away, on the canal, revealed the secret of the catastrophe. From the account given in the Herald we learn that of a dozen or fifteen men who were at work in and about the powder mills, that exploded, only three were killed, and they were blown into atoms. A few others were injured, but most of them miraculously escaped. Nearly a dozen buildings were demolished, some of them being so completely annihilated that only a deep hole in the ground marks the place where they stood.
The cause of the first explosion will forever remain a mystery, as the only person in that mill was killed. The other explosions were caused by the first, and it is estimated that the buildings destroyed contained about fifty tons of powder. The effect must have been powerful, to have caused such havoc in the city, five miles away. Some of the finest plate glass fronts in the city were smashed in, and nearer the scene of the explosion the damage was very great to all buildings. Mr. D. M. Fisher, who was in the city when it occurred, presented us with a specimen from Ryder's large plate glass window, which was seven sixteenths of an inch thick, showing the force of the explosion in breaking into atoms such strong glass. "

"Elyria Independent Democrat", Elyria, OH Wednesday, March 24, 1875

--- Cleveland Ohio
Extracts taken from the account published in the Leader of wednesday, the 17th.
"The city on yesterday passed through an experience the like of which she has never before known, and which for a few moments filled the minds of all with consternation and dread. It was the instantaneous and utter destruction of the Austin Powder works, which were blown to pieces without a moment's warning, and in which three men in the twinkling of an eye were hrled to a terrible and violent death.
The first thought of some people was that the giant powder brought here to be used in clearing the river of ice had escaped control, but a glance to the southward over University Heights showed a dense column of white smoke rising from the district where the Austin Powder works are located. Another but less violent explosion followed some minutes after the first ones, so that it was thought the destruction of the Company's works must be complete.
The shock felt in the city was terrific. Heavy brick buildings swayed and grated as though heaved by an earthquake. The plate glass windows of the new City Building, the superb front of Ryder's art gallery, E.I. Baldwin & Co.'s show windows those of Rice & Burnett and, doubtless, many others were shivered to atoms.
The only windows left unbroken were those consisting of small panes of glass.


the damage was very large, and it will require some days before it can be fully estimated. Cleveland has heretofore been visited by one or two earthquakes, and has also passed through oil and powder explosions, but none of them have ever before caused so much damage or created such a commotion among the people.


is a mystery and always will remain so, although it is easy to guess that some slight disarrangement of machinery, or one of those unforseen accidents that no human foresight could prevent, brought on the sudden and dread catastrophe and scatter ruin, where before had been only active industry and business prosperity.
At the time the accident occurred only three or four of the mills were running, and the loss of life was much less than it otherwise might have been. Some eight or ten men were about the works, and it seems almost a miracle that so large a number of them escaped. the three who were killed were in the two mills that exploded first. One of them, David Lamson, was alone in the rifle corning mill, while the other two, August Radcliffe and Frederick Putnam, were in the rifle press. The three were literally blown to pieces, and fragments of their bodies scattered over the place for rods about.



The amount of damage done cannot be estimated, although it is the estimate of one of the Company that it will be in the region of from thirty to fifty thousand dollars. The loss in machinery, material and stores is not well attainable until after ascertaining how much can be made of use, and what percentage of the whole lot can be used in the future."

--ELYRIA REPUBLICAN, Elyria, Ohio, Saturday, March 20, 1875

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