ADIRONDAC -- The antique blast furnace looms over the forest -- enormous hand-hewn stones wooly green with moss.
It appears out of nowhere around a bend on a narrow, eight-mile, dead-end road.
The wooden charging bridge that once delivered carloads of crushed ore to the top of the furnace was torn down more than a century ago. What remains of its stone piers uphill resemble ancient ruins tangled in ferns.
Finding it is like finding a lost monument to industry, a foreign object in protected forest.
Hikers choosing lesser-known approaches to Mount Marcy from Newcomb, in the south, get distracted for hours scouring grounds around the "works." Curiosity will be satisfied soon, with plans in motion to wrap a heritage trail around the forgotten town and industry at the place called Adirondac, forever misspelled without the "k."
A significant deal in 2003 between the Open Space Institute and NL Industries, now Kronos, Inc., a mining company in Texas, sealed an $8.5 million purchase of 10,000 acres called the Tahawus Tract.
In it, the park retrieved a lost piece of American history; for the first time since 1826, the public gained access to iron lands and hidden water at Lake Henderson and Preston Ponds. Environmentalists and sportsmen alike heralded the deal as an important save. It has evolved since in tentative steps.
Last March, Open Space conveyed 6,813 acres of the lot to the state for inclusion in the forest preserve.
The nonprofit institute conveyed other acres for timber management and kept the 210 acres encompassing the furnace and Adirondac.
Those few hundred acres include two other significant historic sites, one at the McNaughton cottage, once the caretaker's home near the mines.
The boxlike addition on the south end of the house was once the McIntyre Bank, where Adirondac miners and foundry workers were paid in mining company notes.
It is the same cottage where Teddy Roosevelt stayed the night before being sworn in as president of the United States in 1901.
The third historic place on the property, conveyed to SUNY-ESF in August, is an eight-bedroom stone mansion, the Masten House, built as a summer home in 1905 by descendants of Adirondac's founders. It sits on a hill in the forest not far from the blast furnace, and was used as a corporate retreat by the mining company.
The entire compound grew around iron.
The outdoor blast furnace was built in 1854, almost a generation after the mother of all iron deposits was shown to Archibald McIntyre and his son-in-law, David Henderson, who had a foundry business in North Elba.
On assessing the bed 10 miles south of Mount Marcy in 1826, Henderson wrote --¦here is the great mother vein of iron, which throws her little veins and sprinklings all over these mountains."
McIntyre, with business partner Judge Duncan McMartin Jr., bought more than 6,030 acres in what is now the western McIntyre range, including part of Indian Pass and Calamity Brook.
They added to it over time, amassing lands around Mt. Arab, Lake Henderson, Lake Sanford and the Opalescent River.
Their first rudimentary furnace was a 13th Century-style Catalan forge, historians claim, built about 20 years before the towering "new furnace." Only cinders and traces of its brick chimney remain.
By 1846, 12 families lived in the small community.
New York's Agricultural Society touted the mine in 1853 saying it held 3 million tons of the "purest iron." It turned out to be mountains more.
Smelting ore at Adirondac required ramping up an industrial-sized operation far from any city center or train station without steam or electric power. Instead, rivers turned the saws, grindstones and giant furnace blowers.
Construction logistics mid-1800 meant hauling stone for miles, rerouting rivers, felling ancient trees and installing massive turbines to force air up the "downcomer" in the furnace stack.
History shows the effort at Adirondac took its toll, while science studied the unique strain of iron. An impurity Henderson struggled to refine from the ore, without knowing it, was titanium.
The giant "new" furnace was built, in fact, to make a clean separation of ores a decade after his untimely death at Calamity Brook.
Ironically, neither Henderson nor McIntyre lived to see the furnace blast in its single year of operation.
By 1855, the fire was ordered out, the land left to farm and timber. A short industrial chapter ended there; iron mining shifted slightly south.
But the forge site is so significant it received intense study in 1978 from the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Working for the Historic American Buildings Survey, engineers found "the surviving remains of the New Furnace' contain several very rare items, including the stack, a Neilsen-type hot blast stove, and the blowing engine." The authors went on to document each part of the blast furnace, describing precisely how the massive structure worked.
Iron was the primary focus of the southern High Peaks region for more than a century, breathtaking views of Wallface and Mount Marcy's southern face hidden in private ownership.
Descendants of McIntyre and McMartin leased Adirondac lands via The Tahawus Club, even after NL Industries bought the entire property in 1941, working at lightning speed with the Defense Plant Corp. to put the works into operation.
The Record-Post at AuSable Forks tallied the investment the following year, in 1942.
"Before it could start building, (NL Industries) had to spend $480,000 for an 8¼ mile road to the nearest highway, and $500,000 more for the 42-mile, 100,000 volt high-tension line," it stated. "Its engineers lived like explorers in tents and ghost-city shanties. Now the huge crushing plant, wet mill and dry mill are almost complete; operations will be full scale by mid-July. Total cost: $9 million."
Revived mines at the Lower Works concentrated on rich iron and titanium deposits around Lake Sanford at Tahawus, leaving Adirondac to the sportsmen.
NL Industries mined at the Lower Works until 1989, blocking any but private access to the remains of the Upper Works at Adirondac. They retained 1,200 core acres of ore beds and rights to the railroad corridor in the Open Space deal five years ago.
Industry now long removed from Adirondack mountains sits in sinking piles of bricks, mine tailings, rusted water works and charcoal layers buried in the forest floor.
The plan to somehow interpret those layers will eventually unlock a dense history for thousands of visitors just starting to discover the other side of Marcy. Working together, state and non-profit stewards are just beginning to grasp all that there is.
Two weeks ago, the Open Space Institute took a first look at a master plan to convert the historic site, said Joe Martens, executive director.
"We contracted with a landscape engineering firm, Sasaki in Boston, to prepare a master plan for the site," Martens said in an interview by phone. "It will cost a total $40,000. It's just such an important site."
Martens said architects are looking at different ways to reorganize the entrance, especially, to figure out how to make it more available to interpretation, creating a better flow of traffic both on foot and in cars.
One idea moves the parking lot back behind the village and McNaughton Cottage a short distance to a wide, flat area hidden behind a stand of pines.
"There'd be a gate before McNaughton, that would be the entrance to the site," Martens said. "We would remove all the gravel and let it fill in with meadow, so people would enter the trail and walk through the village of Adirondac as part of their hike. The historians say the oldest blast-furnace site is off to the right." The wide Upper Works road makes it a comfortable walk for older visitors or people using wheelchairs.
But there is a lot to interpret.
Broken, collapsed buildings are former pieces of the Tahawus Club, lined up beside McNaughton Cottage, which dates to the original settlement.
A waterworks pump house on the Hudson River behind Adirondac is circa 1942, when mines at Tahawus were called back into operation for World War II.
The blast furnace remains a center point, a destination site, Martens said.
"We also think it's important to have people understand the charging platform. We envision a trail from the parking lot that would lead right up essentially the old road to the top of the charging platform, then down around the blast furnace itself."
He is not certain, yet, if there would be markers identifying the site or a summer tour guide on premises.
But several options are on the table, to include the Town of Newcomb and Newcomb's Historical Society, which has detailed records of early life at Adirondac.
The McNaughton cottage is in the process of being restored.
"The engineers told us we were nuts when they first took a look at it," Martens said.
"They did the most amazing work with turnbuckles and cables to stabilize it. Now we have to find somebody to occupy it and use it, probably as a historian's office or a DEC ranger station."
And archaeologists are interested, too, in what's under the current parking area at the existing trailhead.
State museum scientists conducted a series of digs in 2004 that led them to question what once stood on the flat expanse of parking lot.
"They found things like old brick kilns, old dumps, what they believe were former railroad beds. They even found a barge sunk in the bottom of the Hudson -- it dated back to original mines -- to transport stuff down the Hudson River. They found lots of iron artifacts from the mines themselves, like tools and mixers." Archaeologists found more than 100 different objects or sites, Martens said. "They coded everything by time frame to the Adirondac iron mines, Tahawus club, or NL days."
The quiet return to wilderness is a work through every era, giving pause to human industry.
To walk the streets recalls a visit caught in prose more than 100 years ago, when smoke rose from a single chimney and the sage John Burroughs stopped at Adirondac.
"Hunter (Robert) was hired by the company at a dollar a day to live here and see that things were not wantonly destroyed but allowed to go to decay properly and decently," he wrote.
"After nightfall we went out and walked up and down the grass-grown streets. It was a curious and melancholy spectacle. The remoteness and surrounding wildness rendered the scene doubly impressive. And the next day and the next the place was an object of wonder. There were about thirty buildings in all, most of them small frame houses with a door and two windows "¦ There was a school house, with a cupola and a bell in it, and numerous sheds and forges and a saw mill. In front of the saw mill, and ready to be rolled to their places on the carriage, lay a large pile of pine logs, so decayed that one could run his walking stick through them. The smelting-works were also much crumbled by time. "¦ The iron ore cropped out on every land. But the difficulties met with in separating the iron from its alloys, together with the expense of transportation and the failure of certain railroad schemes, caused the works to be abandoned.
"No doubt the time is not distant when those obstacles will be overcome and this region reopened."
ADIRONDAC -- The antique blast furnace looms over the forest -- enormous hand-hewn stones wooly green with moss.
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