Connecticut Trails Day hike explores ruins of Hazard Powder Works

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Enfield - posted Wed., Jun. 5, 2013
The SRWA provided enlarged scenes of Hazard Powder Works buildings, which Elliot Levy used to provide reference points for the hikers. Photos by Tom Phelan.
The SRWA provided enlarged scenes of Hazard Powder Works buildings, which Elliot Levy used to provide reference points for the hikers. Photos by Tom Phelan.

Ninety towns across the state held events to celebrate Connecticut Trails Day on Saturday, June 1. In Enfield, the Scantic River Watershed Association conducted its sixth annual Powder Hollow Hike along the banks the Scantic.

Hikers gathered at the recreation area in Scantic Rapids State Park to tour the historic ruins of the Hazard Powder Company. Two groups of about 60 people took part in the hike of almost 3 miles, one led by SRWA President Patrick Sharron and the other by “Col. Augustus Hazard” (a role played by historian Elliot Levy).

Over the course of its 77-year history, the Hazard Powder Company's black powder manufacturing plant consisted of 200 buildings spread across 400 acres along the banks of the Scantic River. The river was used to power the 12 mills used in several separate processes required to create the explosive powder. Three dams were built on the river, as were 4 miles of canals, several storage ponds and 14 miles of carriage roads.

SRWA provided maps of the river that showed the buildings and functions of the powder works along the route of the walking tour, as well as on the other side of the river. SRWA members carried enlarged historical photos of several Hazard Powder Company buildings, allowing “Col. Hazard” to make reference to them at key points along the trail.

The hikers were at times confused by the fact that the course the river follows today is much different from the one that served Hazard's powder works. Overgrowth, combined with the powder mill's several explosions, demolition and deterioration, have obliterated roads, bridges and landmarks that were once vital to the company's production. Hikers learned things such as the origin of the name of Cooper Street, which extends along the area that once was the site of the powder works' cooperage or barrel-making shops.

At several stops along the hike, Levy read newspaper descriptions written in the 1800s after some of the significant disasters that beset the powder works. The descriptions were quite detailed and somewhat graphic. It was a series of four explosions on Jan 14, 1913, that proved to be the fatal blow to the operation of the plant that is credited with manufacturing 40 percent of the powder used by the Union army during the Civil War.

The area over which the dozens of buildings that comprised the Hazard Powder Works once stood is now completely covered by forest and brushy overgrowth. But the number of sites with vestiges of Hazard Powder Company's buildings, earthworks, bridge abutments and dams provided a surprise at every stop along the way. Even veterans of previous hikes and SRWA members seemed to discover new points of interest.

The Scantic River has been awarded Greenway status in the contiguous towns of Somers, Enfield, East Windsor and South Windsor. The distinction offers some protection for the river and surrounding land, and helps with the ability to get funding, from both private and public sources. The Connecticut Trails Day hike covered only State Park land north of the Powder Hollow Bridge. Much of the land along the Scantic below the bridge is owned by the Hazardville Water Company.

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