Pittsford in Monroe County, New York — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
The Story of the Powder Mills
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
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.
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
Erected by Neighbors of Powder Mills Park.
Location. 43° 2.768′ N, 77° 28.927′ W. Marker is in Pittsford, New York, in Monroe County. Marker can be reached from Park Road (County Route 25) 0.2 miles west of Corduroy Road. Touch for map. Marker is in the "East Area" of the park. Marker is in this post office area: Pittsford NY 14534, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 3 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Historic Landmark (approx. ¾ mile away); Bushnell's Basin (approx. 1.1 miles away); Richardson Tavern (approx. 1.1 miles away); Seneca Trail (approx. 1.7 miles away); Erie Canal (approx. 2 miles away); Seneca Indians (approx. 2.2 miles away); Cartersville (approx. 2.2 miles away); Hannan Homestead (approx. 2½ miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Pittsford.
Also see . . . Map of Powder Mills Park - Monroe County. (Submitted on March 25, 2018, by Anton Schwarzmueller of Wilson, New York.)
Categories. • Industry & Commerce • Parks & Recreational Areas •
Credits. This page was last revised on March 25, 2018. This page originally submitted on March 25, 2018, by Anton Schwarzmueller of Wilson, New York. This page has been viewed 52 times since then. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on March 25, 2018, by Anton Schwarzmueller of Wilson, New York.