Laurel Run, PA Powder Mill Explosion, 1904

In the Dynamite Explosion at Oliver’s Mills – Two Girls Hurt—Narrow Escapes
With a roar that could be heard for miles, the nitroglycerine building of the dynamite department of the Oliver Powder Mills at Laurel Run, on the Wilkes-Barre Mountain, exploded yesterday afternoon at 1:25 o’clock, killing one man and injuring two girls. So great was the concussion that windows and doors in all parts of Wilkes-Barre rattled and the report was heard in Pittston and Nanticoke.The cause of the accident is a mystery, the only man who could give any information in regard to it having been killed.James Douglass, Sr., together with his son, James Jr., were employed in the building. Mr. Douglass, Sr., had charge of the manufacture of nitroglycerine and his son served as his assistant. Just before the explosion, the elder man told his son to go and eat his dinner and left the building and went to the boiler house nearby and was eating at the time the explosion occurred.

He was knocked from the bench on which he was seated and the machinery in the building was badly wrenched and twisted. He hastened outside after recovering from the shock and discovered that the building he had just left and in which his father was working, was entirely destroyed.Another building just back of the boiler house was occupied by two girls who were seated in front of a window, filling cartridges. The concussion blew in the window behind which they were seated and the flying glass injured them to some extent.The sound of the explosion and the cries of the girls brought the other employees to the scene and the girls were quickly taken from the ruins of the building and hastened to the office, where their wounds were dressed.

An attempt was made to telephone to this city for medical aid, but the force of the explosion or some other cause had put the telephone wires out of commission and the doctors could not be notified for some time. In the meantime, their wounds were dressed as well as possible and they were taken to their homes.

The two girls injured were Misses Nellie Leslie and Irene Labar, both of Laurel Run. Miss Labar’s injuries are the most serious. She received a severe cut on the arm and one on the side of the head. These bled profusely and the loss of the blood, together with the shock to her system, so weakened her that her condition was considered serious for some time, but she will probably recover.

After the girls had been taken care of, the employees made a search for the body of Mr. Douglass. The search was continued until late in the afternoon but not a vestige of his body could be found. A small portion of the trousers which he had worn, were found some distance away in the woods, but outside of this nothing was found and it is supposed that his body was blown to atoms.

A driver by the name of Bellas was loading a wagon from another building, which is situated about 300 feet from the nitroglycerine building. The force of the explosion picked him up bodily and threw him over the backs of his team of horses a considerable distance down the hillside. With the exception of a few scratches, he received no injuries.Several horses which were near were rendered totally deaf by the concussion, but it is expected that they will recover their hearing.

A large hole was created? under the building where the explosion occurred. All the buildings are situated in the woods and another peculiar fact was that within a radius of around 100 yards of the building, the trees are stripped clean of their foliage. The ground is covered to the depth of an inch or more in the immediate vicinity of the wrecked building with the leaves and splinters from the building. There is not a piece of the building left as large as a baseball bat.

The exact amount of dynamite in the building could not be learned, but one of the men estimated it about 1500 pounds. The building was about 20x50 feet and was built in three sections, the lower section being the part where the explosion occurred and where Mr. Douglass was standing. Several of the nearby buildings were badly damaged.A large water tank was erected this summer near the wrecked building. It had a high stone wall for a foundation and upon this was set timers to a height of six feet and the tank stood upon these timbers. When the explosion occurred, these timbers were knocked from beneath the bank and it was dropped to the stone foundation, where it still sits. It does not seem to be damaged to any great extent and is still about half full of water.