The House Built by Dynamite
What do you know about Toledo's dynamite history? That's right...dynamite! Northwest Ohio may be flat and swampy but local pioneers still needed dynamite to tame this area and there are several 'explosive' chapters in the Toledo story.
The Victorian Romanesque style home featured above was built for Albert J. Rummel in Toledo's Old West End in 1890. A.J. Rummel made his fortune selling the dynamite used to blow up stumps to clear the farmland in Northwest Ohio and open up the quarries to make the stone necessary for building houses and railroads. He also did well selling the nitroglycerin used to shoot the oil wells in our region. The 1889 Polk City Directory lists Mr. Rummel selling gunpowder and sporting goods. He was the owner of the Rummel Powder Mills, The Rummel Chemical Company and the Rummel Powder Works.
Rummel established his first powder mill in 1880 "outside of town" opposite of where Harvard Elementary School is now situated, on a Delaware Creek ravine leading out to the Maumee River. On November 13, 1884, this operation was the scene of a major explosion. The Blade account described the incident this way...
"At a few minutes past 10 o'clock this morning a terrific explosion startled everyone in Toledo. In the business section, windows rattled--everyone thought it was an earthquake...Rummel's powder workers on Delaware Creek had blown up...On the south side of Delaware Creek, situated on the side hill, was Rummel's Powder Mills, consisting of a packing house, drying house and storage rooms. These were located about 200 feet apart.
This morning a tub of nitroglycerin which had been out of doors had frozen and it was necessary to thaw it out. N.C. Clark, the foreman, had rolled the keg to within five or six feet of the coal stove—but R. Gaul moved it closer. Since nitroglycerin will not explode except at a temperature of 360 degrees or more, it is thought that the tub caught fire. When it was discovered that it was on fire, one of the men threw it outside...South Toledo, Maumee and Perrysburg saw an immense cloud of smoke. Shock was felt in a radius of at least 40 miles. Fremont, Ann Arbor, and a dozen towns reported by telephone that they had heard the crash. The glass in a Monroe Street saloon shattered. One side of Grasser & Brand's ice house, west of the scene of the accident, was completely blown out."
A June 26, 1956 Blade "Yesteryear Recalled" article by staff writer Ralph Phelps recounted how folks as far away as Defiance and Bowling Green felt the blast.
"Windows of railroad cars at Union Depot were shattered, and the walls of Union School at Maumee were split. One workman was badly hurt when a tub of acid spilled on him. As for the factory—it went that-a-way."
Rummel told the Blade that he estimated his total loss to be about $10,000. Needless to say, his south Toledo neighbors had seen and heard enough and he was promptly asked to move his powder works elsewhere. Not wanting to get too far from the city but far enough away to keep everyone happy, Rummel chose to head west into Washington Township on Sylvania Avenue. He built his new facility near the corner we know today as Sylvania and Woodley Road, an area that according to contemporary newspaper accounts, was "seven miles from Summit Street, about a mile of the distance consisting of a mere path through the woods." Because of Rummel's decision to move his powder mill to this area, this part of Sylvania Avenue became known as Dynamite Road.
Almost three years to the day after the explosion on Delaware Creek, Rummel's new plant on Dynamite Road had its first and only accident. This time it was November 10, 1887 and three explosions were felt far away from the mill. The blasts sent debris flying in the air, some of which were found five miles away. Blade reporters arrived on the scene shortly after the explosions and described the scene:
"A whisky bottle, which was found on the ground, the only thing which survived the explosion, together with the fact that men were smoking could undoubtedly do considerable toward unraveling the mystery of the origin of the fire. When the mills caught fire the alarm was given and the men...ran for their lives. The force of the explosion was directed upwards and downwards instead of sideways, thus saving the lives of all who were at the mills.
Trees and underbrush were mowed down. Fire brands were scattered far and wide. The dry grass and leaves caught like cinder. The fire soon spread to the magazine and it was the explosion of the powder stored there which caused the third report which came a few minutes later than the first. The hole in the ground where the powder was stored was at least 100 feet in circumference and ten feet in depth."
The reporting of the fiery demise of Rummel's Dynamite Road mill sounded like a script from a 1970s disaster movie—it gets worse before it gets better.
"For a time it was feared that the fire would extend to 500 pounds of nitroglycerin stored close to the mills, and the men hauled water from the pump, and after an hour of fighting flames succeeded in extinguishing the fire."
One of the more interesting quotes from the Blade story came from an attorney who was practicing law in Judge Lemmon's court at the Lucas County Courthouse nearly seven miles away. When asked to comment, he said "I was sure that Lingg had begun operations under Toledo," in reference to Louis Lingg, the German-born American anarchist who was accused of building the bombs used in the 1886 Haymarket Square bombing.
Rummel folded up his powder mill operation after the 1887 incident and hired David L. Stine to design his beautiful home. By 1898 the Polk directory listed him as proprietor of the A J Rummel Arms Company, selling guns and sporting goods. His home, "the house built by dynamite," still stands today at 2205 Parkwood Avenue (the corner of Parkwood and West Bancroft). Unfortunately, it was remodeled into the Wunderly Nursing Home around 1951 and it lost all of its Victorian charm. Sadly, the rose brick and carved sandstone exterior was resurfaced with brick, leaving just the roof line as the only clue to the home's enchanting past.