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Interpretative plan for Tahawus blast furnace

NEW YORK, NY — August 22, 2013 — On Sunday, September 8, the Open Space Institute will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Upper Works Blast Furnace (also known as McIntyre) in the former village of Adirondac to celebrate the installation of new interpretive signs at the Tahawus blast furnace—the first phase of a comprehensive interpretative plan that will grow to extend throughout the village.

The interpretive panels—four in this first phase—will offer visitors historical insight into the nearly 193,000-acre High Peaks Wilderness Area, where, in the heart of the Adirondack Park, sits the famed 10,000-acre “Tahawus” tract that OSI acquired in 2003.  

“We have a tremendous historical resource up there that most people don’t know about,” said Bob McNamara, who created the interpretive panels for OSI. “There are so many stories that are waiting to be told.”

In private ownership since the early 1800s, the natural and historic jewels of the Tahawus property are many. Henderson Lake, the centerpiece of the parcel, marks the beginning of the Hudson River as it winds its way 315 miles south to New York Harbor. Elsewhere in the midst of the wilderness that has reclaimed much of the site lies the remains of the village of Adirondac, the iron mining town that in its heyday was home to more than 100 people and included a church, sawmill, dining hall, the blast furnace and dozens of houses.

Between 1828 and 1855, Adirondack Iron Works and a successor company extracted iron from a portion of the Tahawus site near Henderson Lake. After the mine closed, the property was leased to a fish and game club, now known as the Tahawus Club, which occupied the site until 1941 when National Lead acquired the property and started mining titanium dioxide a few miles south of the original iron mine. NL Industries, the successor to National Lead, closed the mine in the 1980s and for some 20 years the fate of the property remained uncertain.

In 2003 and 2004, working in partnership with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the Open Space Institute acquired the Tahawus tract for $8.5 million. Using a nearly $6 million loan from the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation and other internal resources, OSC acquired more than 10,000 acres in all.

In the years since, OSI has teamed up with McNamara—a landscape architect turned environmental artist—and a group of partner agencies to create an interpretive plan for the entire site, which includes the blast furnace and the village of Adirondac. Having completed the construction of viewing decks this summer, the first phase of the plan is now ready to be introduced to the public.

“Most people are used to seeing these signs at parks,” McNamara said. “Here, I want people to gain knowledge about what was here, and the multi-faceted history of what happened at this site. There are so many stories that are hidden here, and these panels will reveal some of those stories.”

Even the viewing decks built for the signage recall the history of Tahawus. The wood used for the decks is virgin hemlock, salvaged from an 1850s-era barn. The design of the decks and rails suggests the same structural details that were used on the charging bridge and the buildings that used to cover the furnace and wheelhouse. Finally, the construction methods and fasteners used were the same as what would have been used in the 1850s: mortise and tenon joints, pinned with wooden dowels, cut nails, and square-headed bolts and nuts.

The interpretive panels being unveiled on September 8 tell the story behind the blast furnace—the imposing stone tower that represents the culmination of a 30-year effort in the early 19th century to make iron from Hudson headwaters bedrock. Even though those efforts ended in calamity over 160 years ago, the monument to those dreamers and builders still stands.

Plans call for installing up to 15 more interpretive panels in the coming years throughout the village of Adirondac and near the headwaters of the Hudson River.

Future panels will relive stories such as that of Vice President Teddy Roosevelt, who in 1901 was a guest of the Tahawus club staying in a residence known as McNaughton Cottage. His vacation was cut short when President McKinley took a turn for the worse after being shot by an assassin in Buffalo. From Adirondac, Roosevelt took his historic “midnight ride to the presidency” via three teams of horses and carriages to a train that was waiting for him in the village of North Creek to take him to Buffalo.

OSI thanks the funders who assisted with the costs related to the interpretive plan: the New York State Council on the Arts; the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation; the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; the Overhills Foundation; the Prospect Hill Foundation; the Walbridge Fund, Ltd. and the town of Newcomb.

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