In our latest installment of WYSO Curious, we answer a question from listener Holly Kozee of Springfield, who wanted to know what the story was behind the abandoned buildings along the bike path in Goes Station.
Community voices reporter Renee Wilde went in search of the answers and she found an explosive history behind the buildings, and the town.
Tucked behind a fence row of tall weeds along the Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail, halfway between Xenia and Yellow Springs, sits a group of abandoned red brick buildings. These are the remains of the Miami Powder Company; a factory located in Goes Station that made gun powder during the late 1800’s.
To learn more about the history behind these building’s, I stopped by the Greene County Historical Society, where Executive Director Catherine Wilson graciously took time out from their annual yard sale to share photos and memorabilia with me from the Miami Powder Company.
"It started out in the 1850’s, somewhere in there, and it was Austen and King," says Wilson. "And Mr. King bought out Mr. Austen, and then it became Kings Powder Mill, and then it became Miami Powder Company."
King’s Powder Mill then moved farther south down the Little Miami River into Warren County in what is now known as the town of King’s Mills. Black gun powder was widely used in firearms, fireworks, and as a blasting powder in quarrying, mining, and road building. There were a couple reasons why gunpowder mills were located along the Little Miami River, the most important was the water power used to run the steam powered mills.
Another reason were the abundance of willow trees growing along the banks of the river. The gunpowder was made up of saltpeter, soda ash and charcoal. By harvesting and burning the willows along the river, the powder mill was able to make a special grade of charcoal necessary for the explosives.
A 1933 article in the Dayton Daily News by Howard Burba, recounts that before the mills were established, the banks of the Little Miami River were lined with hundreds of thousands of black willow trees. Some of which were hundreds of years old.
"And the Goes Station part of it," says Wilson. "It was Mr. Goe’s property, William Goe, G.O.E., and it was a watering station for the railroad, where they got river water, and they used it for the steam engines. So it was Goe’s Station."
The powder companies were the site of many explosions. Working in the powder mill was very hazardous, and the employees were encouraged to work in their socked feet or in overshoes. Exposed nails in worker’s boots could cause sparks, resulting in an explosion.
"People say that’s why it’s named Goes, because there it goes, again. Because it blew up so often."
Newspaper articles from this time period describe the aftermath of these explosions in pretty gory detail.
"There was one particular explosion that the biggest thing they found, was the front leg of a donkey, at Old Town," says Wilson. "How about the one blast where three men were killed and the biggest piece they found of one man was part of his chest, and they only knew it was that one particular man because his chest was so hairy. There’s a burial out at the Woodland Cemetery in Xenia, and it’s just 'Ten men killed in powder explosion at Miami Powder Mills' and they couldn’t identify them enough to bury them under their names."
The largest explosion was on March 1,1886, when shortly before 10 am, a boiler room exploded setting off thirty tons of gunpowder. The explosion left a fifteen foot hole in the ground and three men working in the boiler room lost their lives that day.
The concussion from the explosion caused the glass in windows and doors to explode five miles away in Xenia. Twenty five miles away in Lebanon horses spooked and broke loose from their hitching posts and newspapers reported that sixty five miles away the ground in Columbus shook like an earthquake and windows rattled in their frames.
"It finally blew up for the last time around 1922," says Wilson.
The former Miami Powder Company buildings along the bike path, and the surrounding land, are now privately owned by a local family farming operation outside Yellow Springs.
To see more photos and memorabilia of the Miami Powder Company, you can visit the Greene County Historical Society located in Xenia.
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