Puzzle at Summitville

Photos by Tom Kintz

    While talking Summitville with Tom Kintz at the May 08' O&WRHS meeting, he told me about this unusual structure in Summitville. He explained that while exploring the Summitville area he stumbled upon this stone structure at the end of what was the Summitville Yard. Since I had never heard of a pump house or water crane in this part of Summitville, I was intrigued. Mal Houck and I both agreed that this may have served the mining operation that was located in the "Sand Pit", the area which can still be seen in the aerial photo. The photos are self-explanatory for the most part,. The stone culvert in the first photo most of you probably know. Tom said this structure is up the mountain a fair distance. Look close at photos 4 & 5 and you will see a pipe still exposed. You can also see what appears to be O&W rail embedded in the concrete. Whatever is was used for it is interesting nonetheless. I hope to get up to SV very soon and check this out in person. Any thoughts would be appreciated. You can contact me at nyow@owrhs.org or Tom at tkintz@frontiernet.net.

From Ron Stanulevich:

Whenever you find a robust concrete or stone building like this one around a tunnel or a quarry, the first use to suspect is probably secure, fire-resistant storage for bulk explosives.

Often such a building will have one thinner wall or section of wall that is intended as an "overpressure release panel." In the event of an internal accidental explosion, the weaker wall or panel section is intended to blow out first, venting the force of the blast in a controlled, presumably safe direction.

Modern explosive manufacturing or storage buildings are constructed with walls like heavyweight metal venetian blinds, so that the heavy vents can open on hinges to relase overpressure without turning the walls of the building itself into deadly shrapnel, like the body of a bomb or grenade.

Explosives like blasting powder or plain old black powder are rather bulky, and so are generally stored as near as can be safely done to the site of their intended use, in a sturdy fireproof building. Such explosives may be a primary explosive, but are more likely to be a secondary or even a tertiary explosive filler. To initiate each blast in a quarry or tunneling operation, a primary explosive like a blasting cap or modern "detcord" is required These were ALWAYS stored safely far away from the bulk explosive itself, and were usually brought in separately for each blast, or at least stored separately in a building remote from the bulk explosive storage. The primary charge and the bulk explosive are kept apart until the last moment for safety.

Early O&W blasting operations used pure liquid nitroglycerin, which was tricky stuff to handle indeed, and caused bad accidents if used with anything but the utmost care.

Was there any indication that this building was used for explosive storage?

Ron Stanulevich

Response from Tom Kintz:

The structure has a roof of concrete with railroad rail in it the rail is about 4 1/2 inches high something was once bolted to the roof and a small pond was behind it, That pond is now reduced to a small stream due to decay of the walls. This structure is located at a much higher elevation above the road bed and there no remains of a road near it and the area is not easily accessible. All of the walls very thick so the water appears to have once flowed in on the side as there was once an outlet pipe on the front at the bottom going down hill towards the road bed.

From Mal Houck:

I think this is somehow related to the water service needed for either mining operations or the washing of mine run output. The appearance of ". . something once bolted to the roof. ." suggests machinery for just that purpose.

As for "day storage" of explosives, that "Mystery Building" up closer to the North Portal of High View Tunnel" was just such a structure; -- a magazine for explosives. It has heavy stone walls, an inward opening steel door and a lightly constructed roof. In the event of an accident the door would blow shut and the roof is blown upwards with the side walls containing the explosion.

That "Mystery Building" is identical to many I've (historically) in the area where I live; -- which was, at one time a significant locus for explosives manufacture. The State Road entering town is named "Powder Mill Road" and just over the town line is a ridge known to the locals as "Magazine Hill." There was, until recently a magazine identical to the High View "Mystery Building" right
hard by the side of Powder Mill Road (Massachusetts Route 62) which was used by Barclay Explosives as a "Day Storage magazine" (the term of art for the place where explosives to be shipped during any one working day were kept in the relatively lesser quantities than larger inventory). There were hundreds of these magazines at a place nearby, on the old B&M Central Massachusetts line (Hudson - Maynard - Sudbury Massachusetts) that served as the ammunition dump for the US Navy First Naval District prior to the closing of the South Boston
Naval Annex in 1973. That large facility bore the name of "Ordway."

All this's to say that judging from what the recent images from Summitville show, those structure remnants bear no resemblance whatsoever to what I know to be (or have been) explosive(s) storage magazines. Furthermore, and whereas there's a structure in the form of the High View "Mystery Building" so close by, it seems unlikely that there'd be another one at Summitville, nor quite so
remotely located as the images of remnants seem to suggest.

As for the use of Nitroglycerin (originally made at the American Cyanamid & Chemical Company in Acton, Mass.; -- which also developed smokeless powder during W.W.I), there are indeed accounts of its use in the blasting for High View Tunnel. Despite its well known danger it could be handled with some safety if it were frozen solid! That phenomenon was discovered during the blasting for the Hoosac Tunnel, on the Fitchburg Railroad at North Adams, Mass., in the 1850's. After a number of accidents with liquid nitro, a quantity froze during one especially cold spell.......and handling troubles went away. That was the way in which high explosives were handled until the introduction of the processes developed by Alfred Nobel.

Rambling on............as usual.........

Mal Houck