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History of Gunpowder Point

Gunpowder Point
First train car filled with potash, early 1900's

The land known as Gunpowder Point on Chula Vista's Bayfront has had a colorful history. At the beginning of World War I, the Hercules Powder Company opened a factory to extract the chemicals acetone and potash from kelp. They were used to make cordite, an explosive used for fuses by the British. During that time, three kelp harvesters worked almost continuously. Fifteen hundred people worked day and night, taking a trolley line out to the factory from "Potash Junction" at E Street.

The plant was in use for only four years. While the pay was good, Chula Vistans wondered if the potash was worth it. Sea breezes carried the heavy stench of rotting kelp daily. And every time a worker came home from work, he had to take off all his clothes, take a shower, and change into fresh clothes before entering the house!

After WWI, the San Diego Oil Products Corporation took over the abandoned buildings. It was the largest cottonseed warehouse in the United States and produced cottonseed meal and cottonseed oil; the oily hulls were used for cattle food. Unfortunately, the plant caught fire in 1929. Firemen unsuccessfully fought the blaze for 11 hours, but the fire kept burning for days. The loss was estimated at $330,000.

From 1930 until the mid-70's, farming took over and four farmhouses, a bunkhouse, and even a cafeteria with a tortilla-making machine were constructed on what had then become known as Gunpowder Point. Tomatoes, strawberries, celery, lettuce and the first shrink-wrapped cucumbers were grown. The classic "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" was also filmed here by Steve Peace.

When farming ended, the area became a site for illegal dumping, resulting in the degradation of the natural plant and animal communities. Hundreds of tons of trash have been removed since 1986.

In the early 80's, the City of Chula Vista had the foresight to create the Nature Center which, since its opening July 4, 1987, has become a recognized international leader in wetland-related programs and exhibits. In 1989, the Sweetwater Marsh and a portion of its uplands became the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge.

The Chula Vista Nature Center won an Orchid Award for building design in 1988 and was accredited by the American Association of Museums in 1992. The Gunpowder Point Interpretive Trails opened on July 4, 1994, on the old farm roads.

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Timeline History of Gunpowder Point and the Chula Vista Nature Center

6000-0 BC: La Jolla cultural pattern people lived on site.

0-1769 AD: Other cultural groups lived on site until the time that the Spanish arrived.

Approximately 1900: Early Chula Vistans built the north and south levee roads, cutting off natural drainage from the marsh.

1916-1920: Hercules Powder Company kelp processing plant built, extracting acetone and potash from kelp to make cordite.

1920-1930: San Diego Cottonseed Oil Company stored cottonseed oil in the abandoned Hercules buildings until they burned down in 1929.

1930-1980's: Tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, celery, marigolds and strawberries were grown east of the marsh and on the 46 acres of the land on which the Nature Center is situated. There were four farmhouses where the walk-through aviary is now.

1980-1986: Area used for illegal trash dumping, degrading the natural plant and animal communities.

June 1986-June 1987: Chula Vista Nature Center constructed using Coastal Conservancy and Redevelopment Agency funding. (It originally was called the Chula Vista Nature Interpretive Center.)

June 30, 1987: The Nature Center facility was turned over to the Bayfront Conservancy Trust, a non-profit organization. It was anticipated that the BCT would manage funds to benefit the Nature Center generated from a special tax assessment district on the 125 acres of land to be developed to the east of the Sweetwater Marsh.

1988: Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge established. Nature Center wins Orchid Architectural Award.

1990: Greenhouse constructed.

1991: Burrowing Owl Aviary constructed.

1992: Chula Vista Nature Center accredited by the American Association of Museums.

1996: Avian Support Building constructed.

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1997: The Environmental Legacy Fund (ELF) was formed as a fund-raising entity for the Nature Center. Construction of Clapper Rail Aviary begun.

1998: Butterfly and Hummingbird Garden constructed by the Huck Finn Summer Academy. Clapper Rail Aviary completed and first pair of Clapper Rails installed.

2000: Raptor Enclosures constructed.

2001: BCT reorganized into Chula Vista Nature Board of Trustees and ELF renamed the Friends of the Chula Vista Nature Center. Second pair of Clapper Rails acquired and installed. Young of the year released in a Southern California marsh.

2002: Fifteenth year of operation. Nature Center becomes an official department of the City of Chula Vista.

2003: David A. Wergeland Shark & Ray Experience and Eagle Mesa constructed.

2004: 104 young Clapper Rails have been released since 2001.

2006: Opening of the Wergeland Family Discovery Center.


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