Sunday, August 23, 2009

Crossin' the Creek

Work in the DuPont powder mills along the Brandywine was a dangerous undertaking. Accidents and explosions were common and there were many work-related deaths on the grounds of the powder mill.

The powder houses built along the Brandywine were constructed to minimize the fatalities in the event of an explosion. Three thick stone walls with a weak wooden fourth wall which faced the Brandywine ensured that if there was an explosion in the powder house the contents (including the unfortunate powder worker) would be blown out over the creek, and not into the yard where other workers could be injured. Workers who died in this way were said to have “crossed the creek.”

Explosions in the yard were more deadly, because there were no protective walls to minimize the damage. Our Lalla Delaide told a story about one such explosion, which was caused by a spark made when a horse drawn carriage crossed the trolley tracks in the yard. The explosion was so great that the houses in Squirrel Run shook violently. Giusvalla native Giovanni Abete perished in that explosion, along with many other men who were in the yard that day.

Edoardo Zunino was rushed to University Hospital in Philadelphia in September 1925 after inhaling toxic fumes while at work in the powder mill. He wasn’t able to recover from the poisonous fumes and died at the hospital. Joseph Pesce became very ill from breathing in the same fumes that killed Edoardo Zunino, but recovered and was back to work within a few days.

The quiet, idyllic beauty at the Hagley Museum today is a pale reminder of the hustle and bustle in the powder yards during the days of our grandparents and great-grandparents. But if you stand beside the restored powder houses along the Brandywine and listen patiently as the river trickles by …. perhaps you can still hear the voices from the yard and those who crossed the creek so many years ago.

In the picture: Hagley’s restored powder houses along the Brandywine

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