Rifton, NY Powder Mill Explosion, Jan 1894

EXPLOSION IN A POWDER MILL.

FOUR MEN INSTANTLY KILLED AT THE LAFLIN & RAND WORKS.

SOME THIRTY MEN WERE EMPLOYED IN THE SIXTEEN BUILDINGS BELONGING TO THE COMPANY, BUT ALL ESCAPED EXCEPT THE FOUR WHO WERE BLOWN TO FRAGMENTS -- CAUSE OF THE EXPLOSION UNKNOWN -- HOUSES SHAKEN AS IF BY AN EARTHQUAKE FOR MILES AROUND.

Rondout, N. Y., Jan. 6. -- An explosion which shook the country for miles around, destroyed thousands of dollars worth of property, and instantly killed four men, occurred at the works of the LAFLIN & RAND Powder Company in Rifton at 8 o'clock this morning.
Killed:
GARDINER FREDENBURGH.
NICHOLAS GIBB.
GEORGE KIPP.
JOSEPH SAUNDER.
The shock of the explosion was felt in this city, in Newburg, and in Poughkeepsie, the ground shaking as if with a violent earthquake. There were about thirty men at work in the sixteen buildings of the works, but all except four escaped, many of them almost by a miracle. The building in which the explosion occurred was the drying house, in which were stored 650 kegs of powder. So great was the force of the explosion that every vestige of the large building was removed, and FREDENBURGH and SAUNDER, the only men in it, were blown to atoms, pieces of their remains being picked up a quarter of a mile away.
An immense cloud of smoke, which seemed to cover the whole heavens, arose immediately after the explosion. This was followed by a streak of fire that shot into the air over a hundred feet. Northing remained to show the site of the building but a wide, deep hole. The sixteen buildings which composed the works extend along the Wallkill Creek for half a mile. Most of these buildings were entirely destroyed.
The Corning Mill, in which 200 kegs of powder were going through the process of being cracked, was blown up almost instantly after the drying house. The flames from the first explosion shot through the open door, igniting the powder, which exploded right in the face of NICHOLAS GIBB, an old man who had worked in the mills for forty years. His body was burned to a crisp. Three other men in another part of the building were hurled violently to the ground, but managed to escape being crushed by the falling walls. Back of this building the woods looked as if they had been swept by a cyclone. The biggest trees of the forest were silvered and torn as if they had been cornstalks, and branches and tree trunks lay tangled together with the debris. In the tops of the more distant trees large pieces of tin roof had lodged, looking like huge vultures waiting for their prey.
Directly back of the drying house was the boiler house, a substantial brick building. This was shaken down like a house of blocks, and GEORGE KIPP, a boss of the works, was crushed to death in the ruins. In a glaze house very near the scene of the explosion three men were busy putting the glaze on 16,000 pounds of powder, the day's output of the mills, which was scattered loose upon the floor. For some reason this did not ignite, and the men were saved a horrible death.
Many buildings near by were so damaged that they will have to be entirely rebuilt, and the glass in every house in towns for miles around was shattered. In three storehouses less than a half-mile away 18,000 kegs of powder were stored. The buildings were damaged, but fortunately the concussion failed to explode the powder. The greatest excitement prevailed after the explosion, and hundreds of people rushed to the scene. All the men killed were married and leave families.
The cause of the explosion will probably never be known. HENRY HARDY, the Superintendent of the mill, says he has no idea how the powder became ignited. The total loss will exceed $25,000, and there is no insurance as companies will not take such risks. About twenty years ago these mills blew up, with great loss of life.

The New York Times New York 1894-01-07