Tahawus, the History of an Abandoned Mining Ghost Town in the Adirondacks
Tahawus: A Ghost Town in the Heart of the Adirondacks
The One-Time Mining Town is Now a Nature Preserve
The two-time abandoned ghost town, called Tahawus or Adirondak, dates back to the early 1800s when iron ore was first discovered in the mountains. Tahawus has been abandoned twice from the hardships of operating in the wilderness.
Archibald McIntyre and David Henderson were guided by a Native American from the St. Francis Tribe in 1826 and they found the site in the heart of the Adirondacks, near the headwaters of the Hudson River. Situated between Lake Sanford and Henderson Lake, the abandoned Adirondack Iron Works, an untamed track of land has become a historic district protected by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
“The Tahawus Tract is absolutely breathtaking,” said Joe Martens, president of the Open Space Institute (OSI). “Its defining natural features include rugged mountains, crystal clear, glacially carved lakes, and the headwaters of the Hudson River. OSI has historically focused on the Hudson River and its watershed so it is no mystery why we were steadfast in our pursuit of this project. This property is a key missing piece of the High Peaks Wilderness Area.”
Residents and visitors that go to see the buildings, the old machinery buried in overgrowth in the surrounding forest and the McIntyre furnace, a sixty foot monolith, which still stands, confess that the ‘ghost town’ is not so very haunted or scary, to say the least.
David Olbert, a resident who grew up in the area said that Tahawus was their playground as kids. “In the winter we did a lot of jumping off the roof of porches,” he said. “My brother built a gigantic sling shot and shot rocks across the road. It was all wide open and lawn. It was a great place to play.”
Ann Knox, a resident, agreed with Olbert on how Tahawus was a wonderful place to grow up. She described the area as being rural with dirt roads and kerosene lamps. “You had to do the laundry by hand. I learned how to milk cows,” she said. “We came back to Tahawus every year and it became for kids a sort of home.”
The most productive period for the Adirondack Iron Works company was from 1827 until 1857. In 1843, when iron ore extraction reached 14 tons a day according to the Adirondack Park Agency’s website, close to 400 men worked at the iron works. A small village named McIntyre (also known as Adirondac) was shortly formed.
“Expert opinion at the time held that the Adirondack iron was the best steel producing ore so far discovered in the country. Records indicate that the best marks of American and Scotch pig-iron were selling for twenty dollars to twenty-two dollars per ton; the Adirondack output readily brought forty dollars to forty-five dollars per ton,” the APA website states.
Throughout its existence, the Adirondack Iron Works operated two farms, the blast furnace and forge, a puddling furnace, charcoal and brick kilns, trip hammers and a grist and saw mill. The village had 16 dwellings and a building with a cupola that served as school, church and the general assembly room.
In 1854, the Sackett’s Harbor and Saratoga Railroad Company surveyed the land to begin construction. Inadequate roadways over the most primitive mountain roads made it impossible for them to build railroad tracks. To make matters worse, the presence of titanium dioxide in the iron ore was found. The wilderness won out to the heroic efforts of Adirondack Iron Works and the place became known as a ghost town.
Ironically, the titanium dioxide that impeded mining efforts in the 1800s later served as the catalyst for reopening the mine in 1941 according to Adirondack Park Agency.
According to the APA: “The wartime demand for domestic titanium dioxide provided sufficient impetus for the Federal government to build a railroad into the mine site. The railroad provided the distribution capabilities that allowed National Lead Industries to successfully reopen the mine. Under NL Industries ownership, 40 million tons of titanium were extracted before operations ceased in 1989.”
Since October 6, 2003, the Tahawus Tract has been a nature preserve. The public are welcome to hike and explore the region rich with natural resources, recreational activities and history. Click here to learn more about Tahawus.
–Diana Denner is a Contributor to The Free George. Photos Courtesy of Dave Honan and Aimish Boy
The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.
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