Powder Magazine Explosion

In August, 1854, a calamity so singular in occurrence, so disastrous in consequence as to make it unusual in the annals of any city’s story, blasted its way into the lives of all Maysvillians. At the foot of Maysville Hill was located this summer of 1854 the Maysville Powder Magazine. And on Sunday morning, at 2 :15 o’clock a. m. it exploded, striking terror, confusion and destruction over a wide radius.

The Maysville Express hurried out with an Extra

DREADFUL EXPLOSION-800 Kegs of Powder Burned. Last night, at 2 1/4 o’clock, the magazine situated on the Maysville & Lexington turnpike road at the lower end of the city, was fired by miscreants unknown, and its contents, eight hundred kegs of blasting and rifle powder, were burned, causing a terrific explosion and great destruction of property. In the neighbor­hood of the magazine fired, were two other magazines contain­ing powder, which were blown up, and a part of the powder, it is supposed, burned. There were two distinct explosions, preceded by flashes of vivid light. Not a house in the City of Maysville, East Maysville, or Aberdeen escaped injury. The houses on Fourth Street, near the scene of the explosion, had the roofs lifted off, and the walls curved so as to render them untenable. Many houses on Second and Third Streets were perforated with stones and the walls smashed. A stone weighing 43 lbs., was found in Aberdeen 1 1/3 miles from the spot. The stones on the turnpike were lifted from their bed, and the road mutilated.

No one was killed. William P. Connell was the only person seriously injured: he received sundry cuts and bruises, and two large stones were found in the bed where he had been sleeping. A negro woman was also slightly injured. The Common Schoolhouse; the houses of J. W. Rand and his Seminary, of J. Bierbower, Blain, James Spalding, Dr. Seaton, together with many others were in ruins. Indeed the same may be said of all the other buildings in the city. The doors are broken from the hinges, window sashes smashed, walls curved and broken, and the whole city presents a scene of desolation, rarely, if ever witnessed. $200,000 it is thought, will be required to put the houses in a comfortable, safe and tenable condition.

A reward of $1,000 was offered for the apprehension of the perpetrators of the act, and Judge Duvall called a special term of the Criminal Court in order that investigation might be held before the Grand Jury.

This account, as becomes news stories written under stress of excitement, did not place undue emphasis on exactitudes. The actual damage, as estimated a few days later, was put at a figure between $50,000 and $75,0000

Even so, the explosion provided work and comment for months to come. The powder (27,000 pounds of it!) really played havoc with the city. The explosions were heard at Popular Plains, 22 miles distant; on a steamboat 42 miles up the river; at Hillsboro, Ohio, 40 miles away; at Orangeburg, seven miles distant chinaware was thrown from tables, and windows were broken; near Helena, 12 miles distant, negroes were tossed out of their beds; 3 1/2 miles south of Maysville windows were broken and a boy was thrown from his bed; the whole body of water in the Ohio River surged toward the Ohio shore, rising suddenly and deep on that shoreline; in the Maysville Cotton Mill, 1200 lights of glass were shattered; stones weighing 102 pounds and more were thrown entirely across the Ohio River into Aberdeen, more than one mile from the magazine. Eight churches were destroyed, damage to each amounting to from $100 to $1,000 each. The reward offered met with no success, and the mystery of the explosions was never solved.

Approx location of Powder Magazine

Damage Visible on First Presbyterian Church in 2020

Location of First Presbyterian Church

Distance from Magazine to Church

Excerpted from page 206 – 208 of G. Glenn Clift History of Maysville and Mason County Ky