A night of heavy rain had swelled the Scantic River, where workers from the Hazard Powder Co. had gathered along the banks.
A series of gates along a labyrinth of canals snaking through Powder Hollow were opened, and water pulsed through to power the mills of one of the largest gunpowder factories in the country.
That's the scene I imagined as I kicked at the rusted, frozen-in-time gates remaining from the abandoned factory's canal system. I envisioned the time in the 1840s, when 500 acres of pastureland along Enfield's Scantic River were transformed into a huge factory where charcoal and sulfur were ground into a fine powder and mixed with glue and saltpeter, (potassium nitrate) to create gunpowder.
Today, the area in the Hazardville section of Enfield, where the company's 125 buildings once stood, is known as Scantic Rapids Park Powder Hollow.
The area of town is named after Col. Augustus Hazard, the primary owner of the company. A series of trails run along the banks of the river, what remains of the old canal system and high along the rim of the hollow.
The company supplied gunpowder to Russia and Britain during the Crimean War and for both the Confederate and Union sides in of the Civil War. It ultimately provided the Union Army with half its gunpowder. The company also provided blasting powder for the construction of roads and railroads.
During its time in operation, the company suffered several massive explosions, including one in 1866 in which four men died, their bodies "blown to atoms" according to a Hartford Courant article.
"The work of powder-making is fraught with danger," according to the article. "A man never knows when he goes to work in the morning whether he will come home alive."
The factory closed in 1913 following a final massive explosion that shook much of the town. Over its 70-year history, more than 65 men — including Hazard's son, Horace — were killed.
Today, the woods where the factory buildings once stood are peaceful and the only thunderous noises come from the rapids and drops of the Scantic.
The trail begins at a parking area on the southern banks of the river near the Red Barn. The barn housed the horses used to transport the powder in "angel buggies," a term describing the dangerous nature of the job.
The main path begins at the end of the parking area, with a side trail along a dam foundation to the banks of the river and the rapids known as Staircase, the finish line for the annual Scantic Spring Splash canoe and kayak race.
The trail meanders east along the banks of the river past more broken dams and foundations before reconnecting with the main trail.
The main path takes visitors into the heart of the hollow, with side trails marked in red running along the banks of the canals. Huge rusted pipes, stone dams,foundations and iron gates mark the path of the old canals. The entrance to the main canal is next to several old factory buildings.
Another path marked with white blazes runs up to the top of the hollow with views out to the hills of western Connecticut. The trail winds along the edge, with tremendous views through huge trees of the hollow where gunpowder once ruled.
Take Route 190 into the center of Hazardville. Turn on South Maple Street and cross the Scantic River and look for the parking lot.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun