Along The Scantic River, Blasts From Connecticut's Gunpowder-Filled Past | Connecticut Public Radio
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Along The Scantic River, Blasts From Connecticut's Gunpowder-Filled Past

May 28, 2019

At its peak, the “Hazardville” section of Enfield produced thousands of pounds of gunpowder each day. But then, about 100 years ago, the town's industry blew up.

“Hazardville” is named for Colonel Augustus G. Hazard, a gunpowder manufacturer who operated dozens of gunpowder production plants powered by the Scantic River in the mid-19th century.

Developed during an era of armed conflicts and westward expansion, these few hundred acres in Enfield filled gunpowder orders from many different customers. According to the Enfield Historical Society, prospectors who were headed west during the California gold rush ordered gunpowder from Connecticut.

Plenty of armies did, too. Gunpowder orders came into Hazardville during the Mexican-American War, which began in 1846, the Crimean War in the mid-1850s, and, of course, the American Civil War -- when gunpowder from Enfield was used by soldiers on both sides.

But gunpowder manufacturing was a dangerous business. Mills in Hazardville had frequent accidents, including a massive explosion in 1913, which killed two workers.

A 1913 article in The Hartford Courant notes: “A conservative estimate of the number of explosions since 1835 has been eighty and the number killed sixty, to say nothing of several thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to property in Hazardville and in vicinity.”

Those accidents, combined with federal antitrust regulations meant Enfield’s gunpowder industry gradually fizzled out.

Today, that history lives in a labyrinth of old canals, rusted flood gates, and long-gone buildings, buried along the banks of the Scantic River.

The old flood control gate (below) would have been placed to direct water used to power gunpowder mills in the 1800s. It’s located about two miles upriver from Powder Hollow, where our journey began.

Credit Patrick Skahill / Connecticut Public Radio

My guides on the Scantic River were Carl Sampson, left, and Mike Dynia, both with the Scantic River Watershed Association. "Our motto is, 'We speak for the river,'" Dynia said. "There are a lot of historical artifacts that can be found."

Credit Patrick Skahill / Connecticut Public Radio

An old rusted gear found on the hike. Today, a hike along the Scantic reveals many artifacts, including studs for buildings, dam remains and leftover burned wood. "There [were] 200 buildings in here at one time," Sampson said. "You can’t picture just one mill."

Credit Patrick Skahill / Connecticut Public Radio

Today, the Scantic is well known for its whitewater rapids. For the past 28 years, Mike Dynia and his brother have coordinated a canoe and kayak race on the river. It's about 5 miles long. He said a good time is about 40 minutes. "Depends on the water," Dynia said. "We had some people this year, because the water was high, who were at 38 minutes."

Credit Patrick Skahill / Connecticut Public Radio

In 2017, state officials removed a dam from this location. Today, it’s where we finish our journey, about two miles upriver from Powder Hollow. Dynia said the dam removal "created all these new rapids … it's great for the paddlers," Dynia said. "More whitewater for everybody."

Credit Patrick Skahill / Connecticut Public Radio