This unique structure was erected circa 1768 and was used for "keeping the town stock of ammunition." North Attleborough's Old Powder House saw service during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. It is located on land that overlooks Mount Hope Street.
The North Attleborough Historical Society restored the building in 1965. Also, the work of two different Boy Scouts, in two different years, greatly aided in the restoration of the building and the site. This was done as part of their Eagle Scout projects.
History of the Powder House by Jack Byrnes
Due to the expense of the Seven Years' War (French and Indian war) in which many New England militiamen participated, The British government felt the need to raise revenue by imposing taxes, one of these that was particularly onerous to New Englanders was the stamp tax as a tax stamp had to appear on virtually everything that was paper (newspapers, playing cards. legal papers, etc.).
The Stamp Act passed Parliament in 1765 and due to fierce opposition was repealed in 1766, but other taxes were imposed. This created the feeling among many that opposition to the British government would eventually lead to armed revolt and the impetus to prepare began the building of Powder Houses in communities.
It should also be noted that having a storage location for gunpowder was a good idea from a safety standpoint as even a small amount of gunpowder could prove risky in a home due to open flames such as fireplaces or candles.
At the Attleborough Town meeting held at the Congregational Church, it was voted to build a Powder House for the storage of the town stock of ammunition on September 12, 1768. A committee of three (two of whom were militia captains) found the location which was owned by Jacob Newell, the town treasurer. He donated the land and the Powder House was built in October and November and paid for in December.
The militia was the local armed protective body for the town - every male between 16 and 60 was to be in the militia and they would train like a body. An alliance was formed with the Rehoboth Minute men.
Relations between the colonies and England continued to worsen, incidents such as the Boston Tea Party, the Gaspe incident, and the Boston Massacre occurred. Opposition meetings and inflammatory pamphlets were published.
In April of 1775, the local militia and the Rehoboth Minute men removed powder and ammunition from the Powder House and marched to Assonet (now Freetown) and captured weapons, ammunition, and Loyalist soldiers all without losing a man. The Loyalists were loyal to England. This action only preceded the battles of Lexington and Concord by about ten days.
In the summer of 1778, the New England militia supported the Colonial army in besieging Newport RI, local militia in Massachusetts and Rhode Island were rotated in and out of the siege lines, and powder was removed, and returned to the Powder House through this period.
During the War of 1812, British ships were constantly off of the New England coast and though Attleborough was not threatened directly, the militia would have trained and the Powder House would have been stocked.
If you were to work in the Powder House you would do it during daylight hours as no candles or torches could be used in the Powder House, most likely in bare feet or stockings as a spark from a cobbler nail in shoes could cause an explosion.
The barrels of powder would have to be rotated (turned upside down) every two weeks, gun powder contains sulfur and if not rotated, the sulfur would not disperse through the barrel. The shape of the powder house is circular with the thought possibly being at the time that in the event of an explosion, the circular shape would funnel the explosion upwards rather than outward and it would have been easier to replace just the roof than the walls.