Isaac Peace Hazard

I imagine there aren’t many members left at the Skaneateles Country Club who remember Isaac Peace Hazard. A 1905 graduate of Harvard University and a descendant of one of Rhode Island’s first families, he found his way to Skaneateles and the Country Club through a family connection.

After Harvard, Hazard spent a summer in the wilds of Maine and Newfoundland, and then went off to Cincinnati to serve as an apprentice at the Bullock Electric Company. That didn’t work out, so he accepted “a job in the testing room” at Triumph Electric Co., which turned out to be sweeping the floor and cleaning cuspidors. At the first opportunity, he moved on to the Cincinnati Traction Co.

In the spring of 1907, Hazard took two weeks off to attend to some family business in Santa Barbara, California, where the Hazard clan owned land, and took a horseback trip into the foothills. Shortly after that, he left Cincinnati for good, spent some time in the woods north of Lake Huron, and then returned home to Peace Dale, Rhode Island, to ponder his future.

One can imagine that draining cuspidors in Cincinnati had taken the bloom off the rose of his independence, and in 1907 he accepted a position with a Hazard family concern, the Solvay Process Company in Syracuse, New York.

Founded in 1881, the Solvay Process Company was bankrolled by Rowland Hazard (1829-1898). His son, Frederick Rowland Hazard, eventually served as president, and Frederick’s brother, Rowland G. Hazard II (1855–1918), served for a time as vice president. In 1895, the Hazard family invested in an affiliated business, the Semet-Solvay Company.

Working for his uncle and cousins, I. Peace Hazard learned the ropes in the engineering and manufacturing departments, and by 1915 was a department manager. In 1911, he had married Katherine Munroe Burnett. They lived in a house in Syracuse’s Sedgwick Farms neighborhood. In the summers, the couple with their four young children lived on Skaneateles Lake in “the Stearns cottage” just north of Ten Mile Point, close enough to Solvay for Hazard to commute.

Already a member of the Bellevue and Onondaga country clubs, Hazard joined the Skaneateles Country Club as well. In his 1920 “report” to the Harvard alumni, Hazard spoke lightly of his day job:

“Devoted all time up to Nov 11, 1918, building plants for the manufacture of high explosives and trying to make the plants produce the required quantities of these high explosives. Since Nov. 11, 1918, have been energetically engaged in destroying all evidence of my previous labors.”

The November 11th date was, of course, Armistice Day, the last day of World War I. (It was also Hazard’s birthday — what a gift indeed.) Throughout the war, Semet-Solvay had a contract with Russia, manufacturing trinitrotoluene (TNT) at its Split Rock plant. It was a hazardous occupation (if you will forgive the pun), and in the light of what followed, one can understand why the Harvard graduate was eager to put it behind him.

TNT No. 1, in Split Rock

On the evening of July 2, 1918, when Hazard would have been at home in Skaneateles, a gear began to overheat on a mixing machine in Plant No. 1.

More than a ton of TNT was in the mixer at the time, and when the overheated gear started a fire, the emergency whistle blew. It was 8:40 p.m. The 600 night-shift employees fled, but some returned to help fight the blaze and keep it from spreading to other buildings, especially to the 400 tons of TNT stored in the magazines across the road from the plant.

At first, the fire seemed under control, but then the fire hoses went limp and the electrical power failed, and the flames roared unhindered through the wooden buildings. At 9:30 p.m., the fire caught up to more than a ton of TNT.

As one account described it, “A blinding light was followed by a deafening roar. A fiery ball shot up into the sky, split like a rocket, and descended in a cloud of sparks.”

Split Rock had been chosen because it was relatively isolated, but the blast was of such a magnitude that six miles away in Syracuse the ground shook, buildings and houses rocked and doors slammed, sending everyone into the streets where they gaped at the boiling yellow sky over Split Rock.

At the plant itself, approximately 50 men died instantly, tossed into the air, incinerated, dismembered or crushed by debris. Fifteen were never identified, and a number vanished completely. One man close to the blast. a patrolman named Eugene Rice, was never found, but his coat, with his unbroken eyeglasses and pocket watch still running, appeared half a mile away.

At night, the scene was horrific; in the morning, worse.

The Split Rock plant managed to continue operations in other buildings, but closed entirely at the end of the war. The Solvay Process Company and Semet-Solvay were absorbed by Allied Chemical in 1920, and the Split Rock plant was sold for scrap.

But while Hazard was “energetically engaged in destroying all evidence,” he had to endure another, more personal, tragedy.

On August 4th, 1919, the Hazard’s four-year-old daughter drowned in Skaneateles Lake. The Hazards’ children were in the care of a nurse, who was preoccupied by one child who was sick. Margaret Burnett Hazard was missed. Footprints in the sand led to the lake and her body was found a short distance from the shore.

After this, the family moved on, summering at Newport, Rhode Island, and living in Peace Dale, Rhode Island. Hazard served as Vice President of the family’s Rhode Island Estates Corporation from 1919 to 1929, and from 1933 to 1946.

His love of the outdoors continued. In 1935, accompanied by his daughter Adeline, Hazard was a part of the Walter Abbott Wood Expedition to the Yukon, doing research in the photographic mapping of the rugged, unmapped wilderness.

I. Peace Hazard died August 26, 1946, in Peace Dale, Rhode Island.

* * *

The Skaneateles house most commonly associated with the Hazard family is still standing, on West Lake Road, just north of the Skaneateles Country Club, but that is a story for another day.

* * *

My thanks to the Skaneateles Historical Society for the loan of The Night the Rock Blew Up (1973) by Jasena R. Foley, Onondaga Town Historian.

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4 thoughts on “Isaac Peace Hazard

  1. The sailboat seen on the left in the top postcard is Rhodes Bantam #2. It was the proto-type for the class and it was owned by my father Fred Scott until about 1966. The Hazard family were distant cousins of mine. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry of the Battle of Lake Erie was named for his great-grandfather Oliver Hazard, a prominent member of the Rhode Island Hazards.

  2. that is interesting mr. Scott. It just so happened my father bought me a Rhodes Bantam in the ’70s when I was a kid. Mine was #999. Also, coincidently, I am related by a marriage to the Hazards. My grandmother was the sister of Isaac P. Hazard’s wife. and the little girl who drowned was named after my grandmother, her maiden name was Margaret Barber Burnet. I remember my grandmother had told me this unfortunate sad story. but the coincidence of the Rhodes Bantam is even more uncanny. My father said that Isaac, who he called Uncle Ike, taught him to sail when he as a kid. and thanks for writing this interesting story, to the author.

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