DuPont’s Iowa Powder Mills (Powdertown)- Keokuk, Iowa

DuPont’s Iowa Powder Mills (Powedertown)- Keokuk, Iowa. Powdertown, or, the Iowa Powder Mills were part of DuPont’s expansion during the late 1800′s. Black blasting powder was what they manufactured here, and was sold and shipped to various mining operations in the Midwest. The plant operated from 1898-1949.

The site is a wonderful place to walk with history, vision the people that worked at the plant, smell the powder, visualize the fire threat that lived with the workers everyday. Stroll along the abandoned railroad track and see the wildlife that is in the area.

For a time the Powder Mills was the largest powder manufacturing operation in the world.

All that remains of the old plant now are the falling down buildings, the rail for the trains is just a memory with a few old supports laying where the track used to be. But, for all of the wear and weathering of the buildings the memories, history and stories still remain for those interested in the history of the area.

When the plant was operating the workers had to check in at the front gate guardhouse to be checked to make sure there was no metal on their shoes or matches in their pockets. Not a good thing to have in a powder plant!

The powder was shipped all over the world in wooden boxes made on site. Because of the cost of importing the blasting powder needed for the coal mines in the area (studies revealed that over 400,000 kegs of blasting powder were utilized each year within a 165 mile radius of Keokuk) the plant was built to provide the blasting powder for the midwest by DuPont Corporation. In 1890 the plant was completed. On April 17, 1890, the first powder was produced, and by 1901, the plant was the most successful and was already the largest blasting powder site in the U.S.

The entire facility would eventually occupy 1100 acres including the plant proper and the two company villages with approximately 50 homes.

The lake was constructed to supply the plant with water necessary for steam and other operations. Fire hydrants still stand throughout the mill grounds.

Transportation was a large factor both in the way Keokuk was selected and in the way the mills operated. Within a mile of the center of the plant ran the tracks of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroads, as well as the availability of barge traffic. within the actual powder mills grounds itself ran many miles of track that guided the small steam engines that carried powder in it’s various stages from one end to the other.

The site is being developed as a recreation area with hiking, horseback riding and camping. It also was used for the Halloween "haunted" house in 2006.

Location: just 5 minutes north of Keokuk on Highway 61

Phone: 319-524-7433 or 319-526-RIDE  



  1. Margaret Dresser says:

    In the above article about Powdertown you state that within the actual powder mills grounds small steam engines were used. I copied your article off for my husband to read and he found it interesting but said it was not steam engines but engines that ran on compressed air. That pipes were laid along the tracks and that stations were set up where the air tanks could be filled.
    Perhaps this is something you could check out.

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