Many people think of Taconic State Park tucked in the eastern edge of Columbia County, as the entry point for a hike to nearby Bash Bish Falls.Fewer realize it also holds an opportunity to explore a vestige of our region’s 19th Century iron industry.
The Copake Iron Works Museum, located on the grounds of the park, contains many surviving structures from an ironworks established in Copake Falls in 1845, which remained active until 1903. A cluster of buildings including the blowing engine house, machine shop, office, powder storage, workers housing and company store, standing in close proximity to each other, speak to an era when over forty small communities formed around local iron ore industries in this swath of eastern New York, northwest Connecticut and eastern Massachusetts.
Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to be given a tour around the ironworks by members of the Friends of Taconic State Park. The highlight was getting a close look at the blast furnace, which the Friends have heroically saved from an advanced state of deterioration, and are currently in the process of restoring.
Looking at photos of the furnace in the not so distant past, one could be excused for imagining they had discovered some primeval tomb or burial vault upon first glance. Even now, with a protective shelter built over it (on the same footprint and height as the building that once encased it), the furnace retains an air of mystery.The arches, rebuilt using original bricks wherever possible, lend an ecclesiastical air to the scene, while oxidized remnants of the mechanical components around its base add an archeological patina. Looking up at the sky through the opening at the top of the chamber, one could be peering through the oculus of an ancient temple.
As beautiful as the scene was in the winter, I would strongly recommend making the drive to check it out, no matter the season. To learn more about the history of the ironworks, click here.