Algonquin Park, previously known as Orange Mills, produced Black Powder from 1815 to 1901. The natural water supply provided power for the machinery needed to power the mills. The park provides a look back during this period of powder making and its role in the lives of the people of the community. On Saturday, June 16th, 2018, the Historical Society hosted a guided tour there to learn more about the history of the mill. The event was a huge success – we had to divide into 5 groups! Below are some background images and related information about the history of the mill.
1. Welcome to Orange Mills – ‘Dynamite and Blasting Supplies’ ahead
Many grew up playing ball, picnicking, walking the dog, and just hanging out in what has been known to current generations as Algonquin Park. Years ago many even swam in the streams and snacked on barbecued hot dogs and hamburgers and spent hot summer days in the cool shade of the many trees lining the trails. Today it is still used for much the same purpose and provides an escape for those living in the city and town alike.
Named in recognition of its historic Native American connections by Colonel Frederic Delano in 1934 when he gifted the property to the City of Newburgh, the site operated in various forms producing black powder from 1815 to 1901. Chosen because of the steady source of water offer by the Quassaick Creek, black powder was instrumental in the construction of roads, canals and railways, farming and land clearing, hunting, mining, and many other uses both in the United States and overseas.
Orange County acquired the Park from the financially burdened City of Newburgh in 1978. The County continues to maintain the park. Additional funds are being sought to help preserve the buildings within the park. This guided walk is just one of the efforts to help raise awareness to the historic events that occurred right here.
2. Black Powder Flasks, ca. 1880.
In production from 1815 until 1901, the powder mill ranks as one of the more successful enterprises to have operated in this area. From its humble beginning in 1815 when black powder was produced on a small scale, the plant was expanded and improved until its peak year, 1894, when nearly two million pounds of gunpowder were produced.
3. Water Power
Power was harnessed from the Quassaick Creek that ran from the nearby Orange Lake, through the Mills and into the Hudson River. A series of man-made ponds know as mill ponds and underground waterways known as mill races stored and diverted water through water turbines to run two rolling mills each.
4. Steady Flow of Power
5. Wheel Mill
Black powder mix was brought to the Wheel Mill where two large cast iron wheels eight feet tall and weighing 10 tons rotating on a cast iron tray would grind the mix similar to a grist mill.
6. Built to Last
As an industrial complex for the manufacture of black powder throughout most of the nineteenth century, Orange Mills in Newburgh was designed to withstand destruction by accidental explosion. Workers in the wooded acres along Powder Mill Road carefully combined volatile ingredients that were refined into gunpowder which they packed and shipped around the country. Machinery, powered by the Quassaick Creek that winds through the property, was carefully operated from a slight distance. Wood and copper tools were used to avoid unwanted sparks, and stone structures were built with thick walls intended to redirect explosive forces. Accidents were unavoidable and the mill survived twenty explosions over the course of its operation. Many of those explosions were heard and felt miles away. Now, over a century since it closed, Orange Mills is being reclaimed by nature.
7. Transporting Volatile Materials
The average work day at the mill was ten hours long and involving twenty-five to forty hands taking part in many processes. Transporting materials on site was one of those processes. Trolley rails were set throughout the mill and materials were wheeled from building to building swiftly and efficiently.
8. Orange Mill Employees – ‘Powder Monkeys’
Over the period that the mill operated there were twenty explosions with twenty-eight workers losing their lives. As one could imagine, powder making did have its hazards!