Dan Hodges drove his golf cart past one soybean field and then another. He entered a wooded area and pulled to a stop next to a large wooden building.

"This is Powdertown," Hodges said.

Powdertown is located about three miles north of Keokuk. It was founded in the early 1880s by the DuPont Company, a plant headquartered in Delaware that specialized in the manufacturing of blasting powder. Hodges said the black powder was used primarily in the mining industry.

This was the first blasting powder factory that was built from the ground up outside of Delaware by the DuPont Company and it was the largest in the world. It employed 224 people during its hey day. At one point, there were over 100 buildings on the grounds.

"(The DuPont Co.) destroyed 67 buildings when they left," Hodges said. "There were 46 left. Mother Nature has taken care of others. If we don't do something about it, she'll get the rest."

Hodges said he had no intention of restoring the buildings. He wanted to preserve them.

The rest of the buildings help to tell the story of Powdertown. Along a roughly-built path are buildings and foundations. Several buildings have been burned by arsonists, but others are in good condition.

At the front of the area is a gate house. A path runs up a nearby hill to a deserted village constructed by the company and used by Powdertown employees. Near the entrance was a shower building. Only a foundation remains.

A soda refinery was next on the tour. There was also a charcoal pulverizing mill and a sulphur refinery. These were the three ingredients use to make blasting powder.

On the highest point was the office building. At one point it was used as a residence.

"About 35 years ago you could walk around inside the building," Hodges said. "There was a family that lived in there in the 1960s. You wouldn't want to go in there today. It's not very safe."

Hodges said a lake was built nearby. The water was pumped to the boiler house and converted into steam. The steam was used to make electricity for the entire company.

One of the last stops on the tour of the town included three large stone buildings. None of these structures have roofs. Hodges explained that the buildings consisted of three solid walls. The backs were made of wood, and the roofs were made of tin.

"The reason they were made this way was if they had an explosion they wouldn't destroy the entire building," Hodges said.

Hodges said in the 60 years of operation, the Powdertown company had only nine fatalities. He said this was far better than the fate of the Delaware plant. The Delaware plant had 175 fatalities in its first 100 years.

A set of tracks was installed leading to the factory in order to deliver raw materials used to make the powder and to remove the completed product.

Hodges wants to run another set of tracks from U.S. 61 to the town in order to bring people in to learn about the plant.

"I met a man who told me that if I built the track, he would build the train," Hodges said. "I came back about five years ago and got about 80 percent of the track done. I never got the train.

"He ended up sending me three coaches but no locomotive. The man went bankrupt. I could tell this wasn't going to go very well."

Hodges has always dreamed of making Powdertown open to the public.

"I've always thought people would be interested in seeing it ever since I saw it 35 years ago," Hodges said. "I loved it back then."

In order to make his dream of turning Powdertown into a park-like setting, Hodges said it would have to be done in phases. First he would like to supply a train to the town. Then there is the problem of preserving the buildings. He also has visions of a museum on the property.

"I have spent money acquiring the property and the tracks," Hodges said. "I'm just tired of spending money and not seeing anything for it."


Information from: The Hawk Eye,