One of the many fascinating aspects of the Historical Society's recent trip to the site of the original California Powder Works, outside of Santa Cruz, was seeing the physical remnants of the old plant that still remain. Evidence was everywhere, some of it big (the covered bridge, which is still in use and I'll talk about in a later post), some small (bolts sticking out of the ground that once held cannons in place).
One of the more intriguing "ruins" was the remians of what were called "charcoal retorts." Charcoal, one of the ingredients used in the manufacture of gunpowder, was made by the retort process, which used ovens to convert wood into charcoal. Barry Brown, our esteemed tour guide, found this description of the building and the process from the Santa Cruz Surf, May 12, 1893:
"In this building there are two rows of cylindrical 'ovens' -- each holding one-fifth of a cord of wood -- there being ten ovens in a row built horizontally into heavy brickwork each head being exposed. In the middle of each row is a furnace, the heat of which in about eight hours converts the wood in the cylinders into charcoal. Upon being withdrawn from the ovens the charcoal is put into large tight cans to cool and after forty-eight hours, is carried to the grinding mill."
The photo above shows the remains of one of those furnaces -- one of the many pieces of the old plant hiding in plain sight in Paradise Park.
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An additional note -- if you're reading this blog I assume you're at least somewhat curious about local history. If so, there's an exciting event coming up that you shouldn't miss. The Hercules History Expo takes place Saturday, October 22nd, 11am-4pm at the Library. The event will feature many local historical societies, and authors will be there to discuss and sell their books. Best of all, it's FREE to attend!