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historic moment: a look back at split rock explosion eagle news online

July 2, 1918, an explosion at the Split Rock munitions plant not only shook the City of Syracuse, but also sent shock waves as far away as the Village of Skaneateles. Of the approximately 600 men working the 3 to 11pm shift, 50 men were killed in the blast. Two, Vernon Dillon and James King were from Skaneateles.

This tri-nitro-toluene (TNT) plant was one of 18 in the country. It was started in 1915 by the Semet-Solvay Company. It was located on 1,000 isolated acres in an old and abandoned quarry off the end of Onondaga Road, just west of the City, in an area now called Taunton. Approximately 25% of the nations explosives were produced here and sent to Belgium and France for the World War I effort. The plant employed 3,000 people by 1918. John Hazard of Skaneateles was the Vice President of the company.

James King and Vernon Dillon probably boarded the Auburn-Syracuse trolley in the Village earlier that afternoon and rode the line into work. Arriving at the plant, they passed through a turnstile, and both, as required left their matches and cigarettes behind, and headed for their work stations.

Vernon Dillon, age 23, was one of the 300 patrolman, who day and night guarded the 14 miles of fence that enclosed the facility. Dillon, a graduate of Skaneateles High School and Manhattan College in New York City, had worked for the plant for two years. As a patrolman, he carried a .38 caliber revolver, and was trained in the special techniques of fighting munitions fires.

When the fire whistle blew that night, he was one of the firefighters who responded. A fire had started from an overheated gear in one of the grinding machines. At first, the firefighters were able to keep the flames under control, until the hoses went limp due to a failure of the water system. A wind blowing up from the south fanned the flames until they were dangerously close to the 60 foot tower on TNT Building #1. The men quickly realized that they had to get as far away as possible.

But, before everyone could flee to safety, there was a blinding light, a deafening roar, and a fiery ball shot up into the air, and fell in a shower of sparks. Men were tossed up into the air, clothes torn from their bodies, (and their skin was yellow from the picric acid used in the manufacture). Breathing became difficult because of the super heated air and noxious gasses released into the air.

Vernons body was badly burned by the flames. He was identified in the morgue by family members by a missing tooth and other markings. The records show that he died of a crushed skull. He was laid to rest in St. Marys Cemetery in Skaneateles.

James King had only been working at the plant 4 weeks. He was waiting to be called up in the Draft, for the country was fighting in World War I. The body of the 26 year old was among the 15 workers who were so severely burned that relatives were unable to identify them. Other men from Skaneateles that survived in spite of their injuries were Charles Wood, John Newman and Leslie Hoyt.

There were many acts of heroism that night. For example a little over a ton of material had exploded. while there was another 400 tons in storage in the western section. If the fire had spread there, experts say, the explosion would have destroyed the entire City of Syracuse. As it was, 10 buildings were destroyed, with property losses amounting to $1,000,000 (15.8 million in todays dollar)

On Aug. 7, 1918 36 days after the explosion, 15 hearses carrying 15 black caskets, with the remains of the 15 unidentified causalities, slowly made their way to Syracuses Morningside Cemetery. These men, with James King among them, were buried in a semi-circular formation. A monument was erected in the center with the names of all 50 men who died in the explosion.

The July 14, 1918 issue of the Syracuse Herald said, The victims of the Split Rock TNT explosion died for their county as truly as though they had fought in the trenches in France. They were as surely soldiers of civilization as are their brothers in khaki. They knew the danger. They accepted the challenge. They fought battles with fear and won that our men abroad should not go without munitions and the people of Syracuse might be spared the horrors of a greater disaster if fire had spread to additional explosives. They were soldiers of Uncle Sam when they worked in the midst of danger. They were heroes in that they died courageously, fighting to protect their city from disaster. If they had run away, if they had given up the fight, the horror might have been widespread.

The families of these men, their wives, mothers and children have given their most precious possessions to the country. They deserve the praise and gratitude of the community and of the country for their sacrifices.

Four months after the explosion the quarry whistle blew once again. The men dropped their tools and ran toward the gate. This time, however, they ran jubilantly out the gate leaving the plant unguarded. The date was Nov. 11, 1918, and the time was 11 a.m., an armistice ending the war was just signed.

In 1903 the largest stone crusher in the country was installed at the Split Rock quarry. It rose 22 feet above the cliff it backed up to and the base was on solid rock. It cost $75,000 to build. It is 75 feet from top to bottom.

The crusher could take a stone the size of two men and reduce it to about 6 inches, most desirable for the Solvay kilns, where they were making soda ash. Soda ash is a key component in glass making, paper production, soap, fabric bleaching, baking soda.

Buckets loaded with stone left the crusher every 30 seconds, on an endless cable (like the once recently proposed gondola ride for the State Fair). The buckets ran over the countryside, high above West Genesee Street, over the hill east of North Terry Road, the site of todays Solvay High School, to dump their loads at the plant on Milton Avenue.

100 years later: remembering the split rock disaster that claimed 50 lives

Lynch followed orders and the shrill whistle alerted the 600 workers of the early night shift at the Semet-Solvay Company's 1,000-acre munitions plant at Split Rock, just four miles to the southwest of Syracuse, that there was something wrong.

An overheated bearing in the grinding machine of TNT Building 1, the manufacturing hub of the plant, is believed to have caused the fire, which spread quickly through the 140-foot long wooden building.

Fire hoses then went limp as the water pressure failed. Some of the firefighters fled, while many stayed at their posts, believing the water would be turned back on momentarily. (Many of their bodies would be discovered the next day, clutching melted fire nozzles.)

On a night of absolute terror, Syracuse and the surrounding area received an incredible stroke of luck. While the 100-foot-tall flames spread, workers realized that that if the blaze reached Canada Hill, where bunkers held more than 1.5 million pounds of explosives waiting to be shipped to Europe, the city of Syracuse and the southern part of Onondaga County would be destroyed.

Dr. L.R. Mellor, of Bellevue Avenue, was startled by the explosion, he at first thought an automobile had slammed into his house. When he ran outdoors he saw his neighbors pointing to the black smoke rising to the west.

Fifty people died at Split Rock. Attempts to identify the crushed, burned or mutilated bodies was difficult. Clothing, dental records, wedding rings and paycheck numbers were used to help identify victims.

Twelve days after the disaster, the Syracuse Herald ran a full-page memorial to those who had died at Split Rock. It said that those who lost there lives there were just as brave as those fighting in the trenches of France:

"They were as surely soldiers of civilization as are their brothers in khaki. They knew the danger. They accepted the challenge. They were heroes in that they died courageously, fighting to protect their city from disaster. They deserve the praise and gratitude of the community and of the country for their sacrifices."

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split rock quarrys terrifying crusher m.a. kleen

On July 2, 1918, a terrible explosion at a munitions factory outside Syracuse, New York claimed the lives of more than 50 workers, injuring dozens more. 15 men were incinerated beyond recognition and over 20 reported missing and presumed dead. Today, Split Rock Quarry is largely abandoned, taken over by hikers, urban explorers, curiosity seekers, and partiers.

Evidence of late night excursions abound, and some of these nocturnal visitors have brought back stories of strange sights and sounds around the old rock crusher. Dark, graffiti covered tunnels excite the imagination. This sinister reputation led the site to be featured on the Travel Channels Destination Fear in October 2012.

split rock and surrounding area mountain bike trail in syracuse, new york - directions, maps, photos, and reviews

The trail is single and double track which connects to quite a few areas of the city. It offers a little of everything dirt, grassy areas, and some solid and broken up stone. Not supper technical but if your willing to cross a few roads it connects several different trails and can be reached from the city of Syracuse. I will continue to add to this map and GPS as I have the opportunity, and as I said you will see that it connects several populated areas which allows for numerous access areas.

There are many different trails with steep technical sections, wooden features, and fast sections. Something for everyone. The best place to ride in Syracuse area for sure. Apparently they recently put up posted signs around the quarry so I'm not sure if it's exactly legal to ride there, but I did today no problem. I saw plenty of tracks so I know people are still riding it.

There are many different trails with steep technical sections, wooden features, and fast sections. Something for everyone. The best place to ride in Syracuse area for sure. Apparently they recently put up posted signs around the quarry so I'm not sure if it's exactly legal to ride there, but I did today no problem. I saw plenty of tracks so I know people are still riding it.

Not the cleanest trail, but had some interesting features. Bring a lock and chain and explore the rock crusher while you're there. Small cave like structure with graffiti all through out. I went April 6th 2014. Most of the snow was gone but there was a few tricky snowy spots and I had to dismount a couple times to continue. I parked roadside off of Wright Rd. There are a few houses and people out. They didnt seem to mind.

I'm new to trail riding so not much of a frame of reference but I got to say I was impressed with this little trail close to home. While not maintained well, lots of up n down on trails nestled mostly into the woods. I will return!

I'm new to trail riding so not much of a frame of reference but I got to say I was impressed with this little trail close to home. While not maintained well, lots of up n down on trails nestled mostly into the woods. I will return!