Witnessing A Force Of Nature At The Copake Iron Works
By Jamie Larson
Though the structure around it has long since disappeared and its last 2,500-degree blaze was extinguished over a century ago, the old blast furnace at the Copake Iron Works Historic District remains an arresting sight, timeless and still imbued with a ghost of furious power. Even in such an historically rich region, the Iron Works is a summertime site not to be missed, whether you’re a diehard history buff or lazy Sunday rambler.
The site, museum and surrounding trails scattered with beautiful blue old slag (a glass-like chemical byproduct) are located in Taconic State Park in Copake Falls. It’s open to the public throughout the summer and there will be a half-dozen weekend opportunities to tour the Works with the extremely knowledgeable and engaging historian Jim Mackin. Dates and times are available on the park’s website. Mackin will also be speaking about the Iron Works at the Roeliff Jansen Community Library on Saturday, June 21 at 2 p.m, with a tour the following day at the site at 1 p.m.
The Iron Works, which produced 4,000 tons of cast iron a year throughout the 19th century and into the early 20th, is made up of the furnace, frame office, brick explosive powder storage building, engine house, pattern and mold shop and worker homes.
“This place has an incredible legacy,” Makin says, “but there’s still a lot of mystery.”
It’s that mystery that captivates visitors both regular and new. While the industry was huge in the area at the time, with its own section of railroad, and forest teams that cleared 100 acres of surrounding woods each year to create charcoal to feed the furnace’s insatiable appetite, there is little known about the business, started by Lemuel Pomeroy in 1845. Records have been lost to time and even the physical layout of the production operation is still a bit of a puzzle. On each tour, Iron Works enthusiasts actively work out theories about how exactly everything was configured.
Looking up at the crumbling pile of stone and its restored Gothic brick arches, portals to what was once a molten river of iron ore, one can’t help but feel a connection to a time in our collective human history when we truly began to reshape the natural world with brute force and an insatiable industrial will.
Edgar Masters, park commissioner and a founding member of the Friends of the TSP, has remained captivated by the ironworks for years. “I’m amazed by the vision these industrialists had,” he says, “to create an entire industry out of nothing, in the woods. The scope of what these people did, essentially by hand, is incredible. It’s a little like building the pyramids.”
The Iron Works, which is slowly being reclaimed by the stronger-than-iron force of nature, is a monument to the founders of the Modern Age. Molten iron poured through the hellish womb within the furnace and into wooden molds resting in sand. Those molds made plows to feed an expanding nation, canons to protect it and pieces of infrastructure that connected us like never before. The furnace in Copake was a crucible not just for iron but also for, at the time, America’s industrial future. The workers, mostly immigrants, who sweat and broke their backs and died here gave birth to our nation and instilled it with the ideals of progress. It’s surprisingly easy to see and feel that, just by visiting the Copake Iron Works and standing before its furnace.
Take a tour and you’ll experience all that. It only takes an hour. Plus, it’s free, the park is pretty, the hiking is limited and there are good places to eat nearby.
Copake Iron Works in Taconic State Park, Copake Falls.
Jim Mackin speaks at the Roeliff Jansen Community Library Saturday, June 21 at 2 p.m., with tour the following day.
Check website for other tour dates.