Located on the Kanawha River just a few miles north of Charleston, West Virginia is a World War I boomtown in the truest sense of the word.
What was once nothing more than a cow pasture was chosen by the United States government as the site for an $80 million facility named Explosive Plant C to manufacture gunpowder and other explosives for the American army and our Allies during World War I. The name Nitro comes from the word nitrocellulose, the main ingredient used in gunpowder.
In addition to the manufacturing complex, homes, schools, and other facilities needed to be provided for the workers in the new town. Ground was broken on December 23, 1917, and the Nitro manufacturing plant was no sooner in full production than the war ended, in November of 1918. By then it was producing 100,000 thousand pounds of high explosives per day. Its first shipment of gunpowder was also its last. By then almost 95% of the community had been completed.
With the state of the art manufacturing facility, as well as a ready-made town with access to good railway transportation, local authorities courted chemical companies, hoping to attract the quickly growing dye industry, among others. From the late 1950s and into the early 1960s the area was the center of chemical production for the entire world. The Kanawha River Valley became known as the “Chemical Valley.”
That was a two-sided coin, because while jobs were provided in an area where they were hard to come by, it also led to pollution of the Kanawha River that would take decades to clean up.
Today the city of Nitro has become a living memorial to World War I, and visitors from around the world come to the small but impressive Nitro World War I Museum to learn about the war, munitions production, and the history of the Kanawha River Valley.
Exhibits at the museum include military uniforms, photographs, weapons, and a replica of a World War I trench to show how soldiers lived and fought in those trying times. Displays include not just World War I memorabilia and artifacts, but also items from later conflicts.
As interesting as the museum itself is, Nitro is also a pleasant little town. In addition to gunpowder, it has also been home to some notable Americans, including Major League Baseball player Lew Burdette, who was born in Nitro in 1926; J. R. House, who played for several Major League Baseball teams in the early 2000s, and country singer Kathy Mattea, who grew up in nearby Cross Lanes and graduated from Nitro High School. Long before he became a movie star, actor Clark Gable worked at Explosive Plant C in Nitro back in 1918.
The Nitro World War I Museum is located just a mile from Interstate 64 at 302 21st Street in Nitro. Call (304) 755-8676 for hours, as they vary. Parking might be difficult for large RVs, but there is a Pilot truck stop nearby at the Interstate 64 exit where you could park, with permission, while you visit the museum.
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Thought For The Day – Caution: When somebody says “Get a grip” they do not necessarily mean around their neck.