Abandoned Ammunition factory in Ohio

Peters Cartridge Company - Remington Arms, Kings Mills Ohio
Date added: June 13, 2023 Categories: Ohio Industrial
Buildings #1, #4, Shot Tower, #2 and #3 (left to right) from the west (1985)

The Peters Cartridge Company complex is visible evidence of a powder and ammunition industry that once flourished in southwestern Ohio. Peters Cartridge was a leader in ammunition research and development.

Peters Cartridge Company was connected by family, interlocking management and ownership with the King Powder Company that occupied the other side of the river. Joseph Warren King came west from Connecticut to operate the Miami Powder Company at Goes Station north of Xenia, Ohio. He was successful and opened his own Great Western Powder Company mill on the Little Miami River in 1877. In 1881, King persuaded his son-in-law, Gresham M. Peters, a Baptist minister, to accept a vice-presidency in the company. G. M. Peters became president on J. W. King's death in 1885 and changed the company name to King Powder Company in 1889.

There was a growing market for fixed-loaded shotgun shells. G. M. Peters invented the first mechanical shotgun shell loading machine and incorporated Peters Cartridge in 1887. G. M. persuaded his brother, O. L. Peters, a Lancaster, Ohio merchant, to be president of the new company located in a building on the present site. King Powder employed chemist Milton F. Lindsley as plant manager. Lindsley, George King and G. M. Peters developed a new type of semi-smokeless powder named Peters Powder which was exclusively used by the Cartridge Company. Peters was also a contributor in the development of manufacturing processes for modern rifle and pistol cartridges.

Peters Cartridge was located adjacent to the Kings Mills Station and rail siding. Railroad crews mishandled cars loaded with nitrate of soda on 15 July 1890. The nitrate cars crushed a car loaded with 400 kegs of black powder which exploded. Leaking nitrate of soda mixed with water from broken mains and blew up in flames. The explosion and fire destroyed the Cartridge Company plant, several workers' houses and killed at least eight people. The plant was rebuilt using railroad liability funds.

The First World War brought instant prosperity manufacturing ammunition for the European powers. The company spread out down the valley in frame buildings. In 1916, they began constructing the reinforced concrete buildings being nominated which were all built during the war. The reduced operation after the war was consolidated into the new buildings. Many of the older frame buildings were demolished.

In 1927, Dr. Philip P. Quayles, inventor of "Sparkography" electric spark photography, was brought into Peters Cartridge as Director of Research. His process for photographing exterior ballistics was used exclusively by Peters Cartridge. Making photographs at one millionth of a second, successful research was conducted to improve ammunition, including stabilizing the boat-tail bullet, improving shotgun pellet patterns and terminal velocity penetration studies.

Remington Arms bought out Peters Cartridge c.1934. The plant continued operation under new management into the Second World War. With war production winding down, Remington consolidated operations into its Bridgeport, Connecticut plant in 1944. Columbia Records occupied the Kings Mills plant to 1948, mixing materials in Building during the 1950s. A small cabinet company had part of the buildings into the 1970s. It has remained empty, vandalized and mined for metal salvage for a decade. An earthquake in 1968 brought down some tile detail. Despite the abuse of man and nature, the well-built buildings stand impressive and basically sound as historic reminders of a past industry.

The only proof of design responsibility is a set of drawings for Buildings No. 2, 3, 5 and the Shot Tower by VanLeyen and Schilling, Architects, of Detroit. It is very likely they and their newly joined partner did Building No. 6 constructed at the same time. Buildings No. 1, 4 and 6 are all built in the same way and have the same design signature. The tile on all of the buildings appears identical and was probably manufactured by Pemabic Tile in Detroit.

Edward C. VanLeyen was born in Detroit in 1867 and died there c.1931. VanLeyen specialized in reinforced concrete buildings. Edward A. Schilling was born in New York State in 1872, moved to Detroit in 1892 and joined VanLeyen in 1900. The partnership of Henry J. Keough does not show in the directories until 1919, but his name appears on one part of the drawings prepared in 1918. Schilling and Keough continued to show in the directories after Vanleyen's death until 1933.

Site Description

The Peters Cartridge Company Complex is a collection of seven buildings in four free-standing structures, three of which are connected by overhead passageways. Building No. 3 is a complex structure of four distinct functional buildings; the main packing and a metal shell loading building (#2) facing Grandin Road, a rifle range building (#5) along Grandin Road, the Shot Tower and the Machine Shop (#3) in the rear. Building #6, used to produce the very volatile fulminate of mercury primers, stands remote from the rest of the complex. All buildings are constructed of reinforced concrete in rectangular grid with decoration in dark red brick veneer and Prairie Style geometric patterns in polychrome tile.

Building #1 is the largest and sets the stylistic pattern. It faces Grandin Road on the west and on the north the abandoned right-of-way of the Little Miami Railroad and the Miami River. The original function was shotgun shell loading and offices. The ends are pavilioned. The foundation is concrete in bold rusticated ashlar pattern. The center bay has the main entrance in the foundation with molded pedimental crown and "Peters Cartridge Company" inscribed over the doorway. The bays of the end pavilion have massive piers sheathed in dark red brick veneer. Spandrals and mullions have geometric patterns in polychrome tile. There is a parapet set off by cast stone and Prairie-style pendants. The parapet has decorated bull's-eye mural panels with the letter "P", panels of geometric pattern tiles and a cast stone coping. Multiple light steel frame industrial windows dominate all wall surfaces. The side walls are a thin reinforced concrete grid with cast parapet with post and small supporting brackets. The south end has a cargo entrance. The overall effect is a highly pleasing blend of well-proportioned decorative detail and function design.

The interior on all floors is made up of reinforced concrete modules with heavy posts and beams spanning wide side aisles. There are stairwells at both ends and in the south side center. Freight elevators are at both ends. The first (ground) floor has a small complex of rooms at the entrance, otherwise, the space is open. The top floor, which oral history has identified as originally the location of the offices, has a nearly full-length monitor skylight. The buildings have been mined by a demolition contractor, even to include some of the pipe banisters. Only the bare bones remain.

Building #2 follows the architectural pattern of Building #1. The top (third) floor is connected by an overhead passage with Building #1. There is an overhead passage across Grandin Road which connected to a warehouse that was torn down some years ago. The interior is U-shaped with the same structural system as Building #1. One leg of the U connects to the Shot Tower, and the other to Building #3. Part of the roof has a monitor, and part sawtooth skylights with continuous steel windows. Stairwells and freight elevators interconnect with Building #3. The interior has been stripped. It originally served as the metal cartridge loading and the packaging facility.

Building #3 differs structurally from the others in that it has a clear span with sawtooth skylights having continuous steel sash. The windows are uniquely all wood-fixed and tilting sash. Large windows are on the north side, and ribbon windows on the other walls. The east wall is a party wall with Building #2. The back (south) side is below grade to the ribbon windows. There are three blocks; the long north block, an offset block to the northeast, and a small block on the back side with two interior entrances and interior ribbon windows. The offset block has a large concrete and steel framework which reaches up into a monitor doghouse. The doghouse is of a much later construction than the original building. It is possibly part of the plastic mixing facility for Columbia Records which reportedly used this building to produce phonograph record disks. The original use was a machine shop. It too has been almost stripped bare, even to the metal stairs to the doghouse and the overhead cargo doors.

Building #4 was the power plant. On the east end is a multi-story starkly functional poured concrete coal bin. The interior has two large rooms; a boiler room (half-demolished) and a generator room (completely stripped). The basement has demolished machinery and piles of material fill from the main floor demolition. Nothing usable or of significance in industrial history remains intact. The exterior of the building has the stan- dard design modified by a lack of spandrels and a suspended concrete wall in the Boiler Room. The 250-foot chimney stuck with its decorative geometric tile bands and company logo is a major feature of the site.

Building #5 extends south along Grandin Road from Building #2. The exterior appearance is unique in its poured concrete ashlar impression. On the ground floor are eleven bays of sliding garage doors, a covered passage through to the rear, and more bays of steel sash windows. The interior is an open garage, and beyond the passage a separate space. The second range has molded rectangular recessed panels, and at the Building #2 end three steel sash windows. The blind panels are down the rifle range. The back wall has two ranges of small steel sash windows, and on the Building #2 end three bays of steel sash and the covered passage. Primary access is through Building #2 for the end of the ground floor north of the covered passage and the rifle range. The interior has been stripped of any hardware.

Building #6, The Randolph Building, is a T-shaped block having a common design and construction with Buildings #1 and #2, except it has only two corner pavilions. There is a small one-story block on the north side, possibly a furnace room. The northeast corner pavilion has an interior stairwell and freight elevator. Escape ramps are provided from each floor on the southeast corner. The ground floor is a windowless dungeon. The interior is open and stripped of anything salvable.

The dominant feature of the site which provides its functional identity is the 220 foot shot tower. It is constructed of steel, concrete, and brick in the form of an Italian Renaissance watchtower. The mosaic tile medallion on each face and part of the tile roof cladding fell in the 1968 earthquake.

The site nestled between the bluffs in the nationally recognized scenic corridor of the Little Miami River is unbelievably picturesque for an industrial complex. When operating, it was much larger, with numerous frame outbuildings, all of which have been removed. Peters sited his factory on the right-of-way of the Little Miami Railroad (now abandoned), which was the oldest railroad west of the Alleghany Mountains. On the other side of the river across a low-capacity steel truss bridge is the site of historic King Powder Company, now completely demolished. On the bluffs to the north overlooking the valley is the company town of Kings Mills, once owned by the powder works and Peters Cartridge.

Peters Cartridge Company - Remington Arms, Kings Mills Ohio Shot tower and smoke stack from inside courtyard area (1975)
Shot tower and smoke stack from inside courtyard area (1975)

Peters Cartridge Company - Remington Arms, Kings Mills Ohio Building No. 4 from northeast (1975)
Building No. 4 from northeast (1975)

Peters Cartridge Company - Remington Arms, Kings Mills Ohio Interior of Building No. 1 (1944)
Interior of Building No. 1 (1944)

Peters Cartridge Company - Remington Arms, Kings Mills Ohio Looking south across Kings Mills Bridge (1975)
Looking south across Kings Mills Bridge (1975)

Peters Cartridge Company - Remington Arms, Kings Mills Ohio The main facades from the north-east Building #1 (right) and #2 (1985)
The main facades from the north-east Building #1 (right) and #2 (1985)

Peters Cartridge Company - Remington Arms, Kings Mills Ohio Building #1 from the northeast (1985)
Building #1 from the northeast (1985)

Peters Cartridge Company - Remington Arms, Kings Mills Ohio Building #5 facing east on Grandin Road from southeast (1985)
Building #5 facing east on Grandin Road from southeast (1985)

Peters Cartridge Company - Remington Arms, Kings Mills Ohio Building #4 from Grandin Road, base of Shot Tower left and Building #1 right (1985)
Building #4 from Grandin Road, base of Shot Tower left and Building #1 right (1985)

Peters Cartridge Company - Remington Arms, Kings Mills Ohio Building #6 relationship with Building #3 left and Building #1 right (1985)
Building #6 relationship with Building #3 left and Building #1 right (1985)

Peters Cartridge Company - Remington Arms, Kings Mills Ohio Building #6 perspective from the northeast (1985)
Building #6 perspective from the northeast (1985)