The Story of the Powder Mills

The Story of the Powder Mills (HM268N)

Location: Pittsford, NY 14534 Monroe County
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Country: United States of America
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N 43° 2.768', W 77° 28.927'

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The story of Powder Mills Park begins around 1850 when Daniel C. Rand arrived in this area from Middletown, Connecticut, where he was working for a manufacturer of blasting powder. The methods of making blasting powder, which is simply a coarse version of gunpowder, had been known for hundreds of years. The manufacturing process involved the grinding and mixing of three key ingredients: saltpeter (potasium nitrate), sulfur, and charcoal. To be an effective explosive, the ingredients had to be ground to an extremely fine consistency. Just as the force of falling water was harnessed for the work of grinding wheat to make flour, so waterpower was used to turn the great stones and other grinding machines used to pulverize the ingredients of blasting powder. But it was a dangerous job. While in Connecticut, Rand witnessed several accidents at powder mills, and his attention was drawn to the Rochester area by news of explosions that destroyed some powder mills on Allen's Creek. Rand was convinced he could build a safe powder mill, and came to this area to prove it. He chose what was then a small valley of virgin forest through which ran Irondequoit Creek. The spot seemed ideal since it was far enough from any settlement to lessen the risk from explosions, but still close to the Erie Canal, which provided cheap transportation

to the booming coal industry, which was the chief consumer of blasting powder. In 1852, Rand opened his mill in partnership with Mortimer Wadhams and called it the Rand and Wadhams Powder Company. It was, at the time, a model powder mill. Irondequoit Creek was dammed to create a pond and a mill race to power the grinding machines. The various steps in the manufacturing process were given separate buildings that were separated so an explosion in one would not send the whole business up in flames. Rand sought to eliminate all sparks due to metal touching metal. The buildings were connected by narrow gauge railroad with wood rails on which rode small cars with wood wheels. And employees were not allowed to have any metal in the clothing or on their person while working. Many wore felt-soled slippers because their regular boots were made with nails in them. To lessen the chance of fires or tampering, Rand kept his property off limits to all hunting, fishing, and camping. This created an air of mystery about the area that lingered long after the mills were gone. But Rand's methods worked. In the 58 years of the mill's operation, there were several small explosions and two injuries, but no cataclysmic explosions and no deaths. Rand bought saltpeter and sulfur, but made his own charcoal out of willow trees that grew abundantly in the valley.

Over the years, Rand planted hundreds of new willows to replace those he cut. The willow was burned very slowly in large kilns to produce the charcoal. The charcoal and sulfur were ground together, with the saltpeter being ground separately. After both had been reduced to a coarse grain, they were combined and ground together for several hours. They were then formed into large cakes under 3000 to 4000 pounds of pressure. The cakes, in turn, were re-ground with graphite, which made the powder flow better. The powder was then sieved to different grades and packed in 25 pound kegs, with the finest grades being the most powerful. Rand died in 1883, and his partner Wadhams died three years later. Rand had married one of Wadham's daughters, Stella, and had a large family. Two of Rand's sons, Mortimer and Samuel, continued the mill's operation until 1910 under the name of the D.C. Rand Powder Company. The brothers quit the business in 1910 and moved to Uniontown, Pennsylvania, to set up another mill closer to the coal mines that consumed the powder. The property was left vacant and the buildings of the mill, including the large Rand homestead, slowly decayed. The 290-acre property was bought in 1929 by the Monroe County Park Commission, the fifth of six large recreational areas planned by that body at the time of its organization in 1926. (More property has been bought, bringing the total park acreage to 380 acres.) The old mill buildings and the Rand homestead were razed, and the recreational areas existing today were created. The air of mystery and intrigue has left the Powder Mills area, but the natural beauty and sense of peaceful seclusion that Rand so valued remains."Rochester Powder Mills, Rand & Co., PO. Pittsford, Monroe Co., N.Y." Reproduction of a lithograph made for the mill owners in 1877. Layout of Rand and Wadhams Powder Company 1. woodshed; 2. charcoal kiln; 3. soda house; 4. dry-pan on bank of mill-race; 5. grinding mill; 6. mixer (present site of Wadhams Lodge); 7. press (present site of water wheel)* You are here; 8. coining mill; 9. glazer and packer; 10. keg storehouse; 11. dip houses (present site of Fish Hatchery); 12. workshop; 13. Rand homestead; 14. tenant house; 15. mill pond and head-race
HM NumberHM268N
Placed ByNeighbors of Powder Mills Park
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Sunday, March 25th, 2018 at 7:01am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)18T E 297833 N 4768927
Decimal Degrees43.04613333, -77.48211667
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 43° 2.768', W 77° 28.927'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds43° 2' 46.08" N, 77° 28' 55.62" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)585
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 154-194 County Rd 25, Pittsford NY 14534, US
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