From The Cincinnati Enquirer, Tuesday, October 19, 2004



Tuesday, October 19, 2004
By Randy McNutt

Along the Little Miami River, down the hill from Kings Mills, the old Peters Cartridge factory looms - majestic and worn.

It is dilapidated now. Windows are broken on two original front buildings.

Deeper inside the complex, however, business is being conducted by about 20 tenants that range from photographers to salvage operators.

Judging by the quiet, the place is peaceful. It is a contrast to a century ago, when the factory was a prolific and innovative maker of ammunition. It employed hundreds of people along the scenic river.

Their company invented an automatic cartridge-loading machine and became the first firm to introduce automatic machine-loaded cartridges as an article of commerce, said Thomas D. Schiffer, author of Peters & King: The Birth and Evolution of the Peters Cartridge Co. and the King Powder Co.

King, founded by Joseph Warren King, was the parent company. It built its factory on the Kings Mills side, in Deerfield Township in Warren County, as well as the Peters plant on the opposite side of the river, in Hamilton Township.

All in the family

Gershom Moore Peters, a Baptist minister, married King's daughter and invented the cartridge-loading machine. Peters and his brother, O.E. Peters, helped organize the Peters Cartridge Co. in 1887.

They built a massive shot tower at the factory complex in 1895. During World War I, a new one replaced it. It is still there. Fancy letter Ps can still be seen on the sides of the tower and the huge smokestack.

"When they built this place, they went for quality and good looks," said Bob Prows, who rents storage space. "Just look at those tiles on the outside. Factory owners were proud of their buildings."

Site manager Bud Neiswangersaid only one-third of the original buildings still stand. They equal 300,000 square feet of storage space.

"There's a lot of history in this place," he said. "Annie Oakley visited here once. We've had two movies, a rap video, three or four album covers and other things shot here."

Peters' biggest event was the explosion of July 15, 1890. At 3:50 p.m., people from as far away as Lebanon (6 miles away) heard a loud boom.

800 kegs exploded

On that dreadful day, a train car rammed two cars loaded with 800 kegs of powder and cartridges from Kings Mills. The resulting explosion killed 11 people.

An estimated 1,600 kegs of powder in the area exploded.

"Everything ... took fire and burnt like powder, not a piece of timber of any kind (and all the buildings) was left standing by six o'clock," a reporter wrote.

Peters quickly resumed its work. The plant continued to make ammunition for soldiers during World War I.

At the end of World War II, Schiffer said, Peters' plants closed across the country and workers were left without jobs.

In the late 20th century, the plant was used for a number of business operations, including pressing vinyl discs for Columbia Records, storing liquor for Seagram's, and grinding industrial lenses.

These days, tenants include a motorcycle repair shop, a whistle manufacturer and a theater group.

Bob Craig, director of the Warren County Regional Planning Commission, said Congressman Rob Portman has tried to get federal help to clean the site up (lead) but nothing much has happened."

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