Today, in 2011, you have to look pretty hard to find evidence of the industrial past of
the Upper Housatonic Valley. Yet where the upscale second
(and third) homes, private
schools, and artistic and cultural activities that characterize the area now stand
was once a major "smokestack industry" area. Iron and limestone mines, more than 40 blast
furnaces, mountains stripped bare of trees to make charcoal, foundries, and railroad yards took
advantage of the co-location here of the key natural resources needed to make
iron: high grade iron ore, limestone, forests to burn to make charcoal, and water power -- and then to fabricate such
products as railroad wheels with the locally produced iron.
If you have an
interest in the development of the iron and steel industry in America, we offer
a number of CD-ROMs that may interest you. You'll find links to material
about each of them further along on this page.
We offer in one download two of the earlier articles about the history of the iron
industry in Connecticut, both by Charles Rufus Harte, one of the first people to
recognize the historic importance of that industry. Included are (1) "The
Early Iron Industry of Connecticut" by Keith and Harte, and (2) "Preserving a
Typical Iron Furnace" by Harte. Available in PDF format, 80+ pages, for
People who live or vacation here today and enjoy the natural beauty
yet yearn for the "good old days" probably should reconsider! For nearly 200 years, this area was a contender for the title of
"Smokestack America." Between the continuous charcoal burning process on every
mountain to create the
charcoal needed for the blast furnaces and foundries, from smoke from the furnaces
and foundries themselves, from the forges
melting and casting the locally produced iron, and from the fabricating
continuous pall of smoke must have hung over the area much of the time. The
noise of industrial processes -- can you imagine what something called a
"hammer mill" might sound like? -- was pervasive and continuous. Heavy industry sat
cheek-by-jowl with residence and church, and even families like the Barnums and Richardsons,
who owned major parts of the heavy industry here, lived within a short stroll of their forges and mills.
Even though nature has since reclaimed our green hills and valleys, the Iron Heritage is still here. Increasingly, its
importance is being recognized. Our Congress
even got around to recognizing this via our Upper Housatonic
Valley National Heritage Area.
Between the Lakes Group is
participating in the process of finding our iron heritage and in making it more readily
accessible to more people.
The process is underway. For the most part, the loss of history has
been more or less arrested, although threats to the portions that remains can be
expected to continue and even increase as developers find attractive
targets in our area. And there is much work still to be done before
we will not only have saved the remaining structures, but also recaptured
a complete picture of what life in this industrial area was really like.
Below are some links to websites with more information about our area
and its industrial past.
New to the area? The Upper Housatonic Valley
National Heritage Area group has a great map of the
historic and cultural sites not only in Connecticut, but also in New York
State and Massachusetts -- including those from the historic iron
to visit the website of the parent organization of the
-- finally successful -- campaign to have the Upper Housatonic Valley designated a National
Heritage Area. The title of this section is an acronym for "Upper
Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, Inc. That's a mouthful!
However, their charter is equally large: "heightening appreciation
of the region, preserving its natural and historic resources, improving
the local economy and quality of life, controlling undesirable growth, and
promoting the cleanup of the Housatonic River."
to visit the section of the award-winning Trinity Church Lime
website devoted to its history. The page includes not only the history of that
somewhat unusual Episcopal parish
church -- the parish built by the Barnum and Richardson families, of Barnum
Richardson Company (owners not only of eight area blast furnaces but much
of the area iron fabricating capability as well), for themselves and for their
workers -- as recounted by several authors, but of the Barnum family and of
the Lime Rock
community as well.
Since the village of
Lime Rock was
largely a "company town" at the time Trinity was established in
it is likely that Trinity was perceived by its founders as a "company
church" -- providing a convenient church for the management and
welcoming the workers as well.
to visit the section of this website devoted to the
village of Lime Rock, which
includes some of our own Lime Rock material, some archival material from
Trinity Church, Lime Rock (hosted here as a cooperative venture), and an
opportunity to purchase a CD-ROM we produced that includes an
illustrated history walk of Lime
Rock. (We make a contribution to that walk's sponsor, Trinity
Church in Lime Rock, for every copy of the CD-ROM sold.)
Many entities -- corporate
and otherwise -- made up the iron industry in our area.
Church Lime Rock has the distinction of being the oldest one still remaining in existence in the same
corporate form, under the same ownership, in the same building, still functioning, and (probably because the death of the
iron industry deprived it of its main source of funds) still essentially unchanged
since the turn of the 20th century.
|If you have an interest in the historic
iron industry in other parts of the United States, let us recommend
to you another CD-ROM from Between the Lakes Group called
Johnstown: the Great
Flood and Afterward.
Johnstown, located in Cambria County,
PA, was significant in the history of American iron as the site of
the Cambria Iron & Steel Company. Like Connecticut's Northwest
Corner, the Johnstown locale contained the essential ingredients to make iron
(and later, steel): iron ore, limestone, coal, and water power
(although the water power became at best a mixed blessing if not an
outright tragedy in Johnstown.)
to go to
We also recommend a chapter on the
economic geology and the history of
iron, coal, and coke in Fayette County, PA that we publish as a
John Rodemeyer, Jr.,
formerly editor of the local newspaper, wrote what was then -- and remains today --
the definitive history of North Canaan, CT. Containing maps and abundant photographs in its
eighty-odd pages, it was both a history of the township and a history of the iron
industry that represented its most important industry, including the
families that started it. It also includes an often neglected aspect
of the iron business that was particularly important (and still is) in
Canaan: the limestone business. (You can have no real
appreciation of why the school teams of North Canaan Elementary School are
called "the Miners" until you understand the importance the limestone
business has historically held in North Canaan -- and continues to hold
Scrap Book of North Canaan can be classified as
a rare book
today. We have obtained a copy, scanned it, and added a full
index, as well as some ephemera. The index is available on this website for your use.
to learn more about Scrap Book of North Canaan --
including the new index -- and see additional material about Canaan, including views
of Canaan today. If you already have access to a copy of Scrap Book of North Canaan,
you'll appreciate this index. If you don't have a copy of "Scrap
Book" -- you can order a scanned copy on CD-ROM. This CD-ROM also includes topographic maps
drawn in the same decade when "Scrap Book" was published, scanned copies of two of the "Manuals"
of the Pilgrim Church of North Canaan (this was the church of many of the Iron
families), and some photographs of North Canaan and
the surrounding area as it appeared in 2002-2003, including a "then and
now" slide show.
for ordering information.
By the way, your purchases of this CD help us finance the web presence we
provide for the Friends of Beckley
How much land speculation really occurred in colonial
times in Salisbury, CT?
The popular tradition had been that
land speculation was
positively rampant -- almost a "favorite indoor sport" of the time. In
those days, of course, the Ore Hill mine was still a hill
(today, it's a lake),
and the stage was being set for Salisbury's later importance in the history
of Iron in America.
At some time
in the future we anticipate publishing a previously unpublished
Masters essay written in 1991 that examines Salisbury's early land records in detail and subjects them to rigorous analysis.
Unlike most popular history, this one is filled not with
theories, generalizations, and puffery about local ancestors, but instead with databases and spreadsheets.
In the process, it raises significant questions about land
speculation in Salisbury around the time of the birth of the historic iron
industry. How much land speculation really DID happen?
This article answers that question with finality.
We expect to make it available shortly, but publication is currently
delayed due to the author's health and her desire to amplify some of the
conclusions drawn. Check back here for details. We
anticipate offering it as a download.
You may find some of the photos on our Canaan page of interest.
to take a look. Likewise, our Lime
Rock page has several views of that "company town."
|Railroads have historically followed the iron industry
wherever it has developed. The Housatonic Valley was no
exception. By December 1842, the Housatonic had been completed from
Bridgeport in the south to the Massachusetts state line, and was completed
all the way to Pittsfield by 1849. Not surprisingly, there was not
arms-length independence between the iron industry and the Housatonic Railroad,
as William H. Barnum, of the Barnum Richardson Company, and a founder of
Trinity Church, "The Church that Iron Built," was also a
trustee of the Housatonic Railroad and later its president.
to visit a website with some great photos
of the Housatonic Railroad as it appears today -- as well as some
traces of its history that remain. Recommended!!
|The Tri-Corner History Council, which can be
contacted c/o the Salisbury Association, 24 Main Street, Salisbury CT
06068, has prepared a new folder entitled "The Iron Industry in
Connecticut's Northwest Corner". It includes a short summary of
the industry and a map of a Heritage Trail covering the artifacts of the iron industry
as they appear today. The folder is available through the Tri-Corner
History Council, or through any of the area historical associations, as
well as at local inns.
|"Ghost Towns" is the
name of a website we're happy to recommend. They have made a
specialty of just those throughout the US. In our case, of course,
we're not just talking about ghost towns, but about a whole ghost
INDUSTRY! The Ghost Towns website is definitely worth a look.
to visit it!
if you would like to see pictures from the Blackberry River Walk for
2003. On that walk we learned about the historic Iron industry from today's experts,
including descendants of families who actually made the industry happen, in
the actual locations where history (and iron) were made.
SPECTACULAR! See the PICTURES!
case you think that learning about the historic iron industry is just
for academics, retirees and tourists, you might be interested in knowing
that Beckley Furnace often hosts groups from area high schools and
junior high schools.
Pittsfield (MA) High School and Mt. Everett
Junior High were two schools that visited Beckley recently and
learned about the iron industry first hand. We've got pictures of
the learning process.
to visit the history pages from
The Inn at White Hollow Farm.
|In October 2004 we
conducted a Heritage Walk of Lime Rock, the headquarters town for Barnum
Richardson Company (among its other distinctions). In response to
several suggestions during and after that walk, we have expanded the
slideshow we prepared at that time that illustrated the sights on the
heritage walk -- along with what was once there -- for people who weren't up to making the
whole walk . We have included much more material as well.
This has become:
another local history CD-ROM from
Between the Lakes Group.
to read more about the CD.
We think it's a great addition to our CDs about
Litchfield County, CT. (Note:
we make a contribution to
Trinity Church, Lime Rock, for every copy of the
CD sold in appreciation for their sponsorship of the history walk and to
help preserve their historic building.)
Here are a few selected Internet links to articles providing more information
about the Iron Heritage of the Upper Housatonic valley.
to read an article in "American Profile" by Ruth Epstein about Canaan,
CT, and the Beckley Furnace.
to see an abstract of the North Canaan section from "The Connecticut Guide"
to read a narrative about an experiment at South Kent School in which
they built a working (?) blast furnace in 1999 - 2000.
to read an article about the iron industry from the Sharon Historical
to learn more about the mineralogy of the Limonite ore of the Scoville
Ore Deposit in Salisbury.
NOTE: The five links immediately above connect to websites
that are not under the control
of Between the Lakes Group. The contents of those sites may change without
notice, and the addresses may change, which can make the sites inaccessible. If you
encounter any difficulties with any of the sites in the "Other Sources of
Information" section, please
to e-mail Between the Lakes Group and let us know what's wrong. Also, if you
find other links to material about this subject, please let us know as well, and
we'll consider adding them to this page. Thanks in advance!!
Below are a few historic images reflecting aspects of the Iron Industry in the Upper
Housatonic Valley. Click on any of the images to view larger
|Sources: #1 - #4: Scrap Book of North
Canaan. #5: archives of Trinity Church, Lime Rock, "The
Church that Iron Built" For more information about Beckley
Furnace, including chronology and maps and many more pictures, see below.
For more information and photos from the archives of Trinity
Church, Lime Rock, see the link above.
If you want to learn about the iron industry in
our area, the Friends of Beckley Furnace will not only help you learn,
they will actively involve you in recovering the history of an industry and an
For FOBF, history is very much alive. A view of Beckley
Furnace just before it closed is above, as photo #1. Try these
links for some information
about FOBF, a chronology of the furnaces of East Canaan,
historic topographic maps of the area,
photographs of the Barnum family (Barnum
Richardson Company owned Beckley), and some current photographs
of the restoration project, as well as the 2003 Blackberry
River Walk photos.