News From Terre Haute, Indiana

October 27, 2013

HISTORICAL TREASURE: Fontanent Du Pont Powder mill rocked by explosion

Cory Burger
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — On Oct. 15, 1907, with the sun having started its daily journey in the sky, the small town of Fontanet, located in the Nevins Township of Vigo County, was rocked by a set of massive explosions at the Du Pont Powder Company that claimed the lives of 30 people, and caused injury to over 250 more.

The first explosion is thought to have occurred at 9:15 in the morning in the glazing mill of the plant, when friction from a shaft in the mill caused sparks to fall into loose powder. As the fire quickly spread, other mills blew, with newspapers of the time reporting that there were “three distinct concussions at intervals of a few minutes.” As the heat and the flames grew, the great powder magazine blew at 10:45, nearly 90 minutes after the first explosion.

The powder magazine explosion destroyed not only the rest of the mill, but most of the town and outlying towns as well. It is believed that there was not a building nor a resident who did not suffer some damage. In the days following the tragedy, it was reported that in Crawfordsville, some 35 miles away, an office building was found to have cracked walls; in the city of Bloomington, a university recitation was interrupted when the building moved, leaving cracked walls and frightened residents; and it was said to have been felt as far east as Cincinnati.

The devastation and the resulting effects of the explosion on the town of Fontanent and the reaction of local residents can be seen in the photo above. For more information on the event visit the Vigo County Historical Society, 1411 S. Sixth St., or contact them at www.vchsmuseum.org.