Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Long Pond Ironworks: walking through a century in an hour or so

Long Pond Ironworks Historic District is literally hidden from the average motorist driving by on Greenwood Lake Turnpike in Hewitt. From the road you can see a restored building that held the old country store, plus a Victorian-era church and an aging house or two, but even more is obscured until you get out of the car, grab a map and walk the path back into the woods. As you leave the highway behind, you'll be walking into a mine area that dates back to the 1760s.

Before we even get into what's there, I've got to mention that on our visit, there was more interpretive literature outside the closed visitor center than you'd get at most museums that were open and staffed. I found no less than four separate leaflets packed with information from the Friends of Long Pond Ironworks. They've done a fine job of research and restoration, but for the quickest overview on a first visit, it's probably best to consult the eight-panel self-guided tour document. It contains a nicely drawn and labeled map that separates the area into seven briefly-described areas.

The original mine and ironworks at Long Pond were established in 1767 by Peter Hasenclever, a German working on behalf of a British company. When operating under Robert Erskine in the 1770's, Long Pond supplied the Continental Army with iron products. Eventually, the property came under the ownership of Cooper and Hewitt, which built new furnaces and continued the proud tradition of supplying American troops, this time for the Union cause during the Civil War. The furnaces finally stopped producing in 1882 as the iron industry moved westward.

A walk around the property reveals structures built at different points of the ironworks' history, from a stone double house all the way to the Victorian church. If you look really carefully through some overgrowth, you'll also see the remains of an arts-and-crafts style house just off the road. The visitors center map shows the location of most, if not all of the buildings, but as you walk around, you'll see that while some of them are in relatively good shape (i.e. they look like buildings), others are mostly just foundations or crumbling stone walls. Ivan had been there many years ago and commented that a lot of work had been done on the property over the years to stabilize what was still there. All of the windows were boarded over, with fake window panes painted on them so that from a distance (and with bad vision), one might even think the real windows were still there.

Besides the living quarters and company store, the historical society is working to recreate the waterwheels that used the Wanaque River to power the blast furnaces back in the day. According to the map, these are the only surviving waterwheels from the region's iron industry.

Hasenclever and the host of other ironmasters who succeeded him lived in the nearby Ringwood Manor, which still welcomes visitors today. The Long Pond property and the manor were once linked by a well-traveled road, now a several miles-long hiking path dotted with interpretive wayside signs. Note, however, that a portion of the path near Peters Mine is closed.

Long Pond has some potential as a birding spot, both from the woods and the nearby Monksville Reservoir. Our mid-summer, midday visit didn't result in many finds, though we may have seen an elusive green heron.

If you choose to check out the area, be sure to stop by the visitors center to pick up the previously-mentioned literature and look in on the small but informative museum display. Browsing for a few minutes will give you a good idea of the area's history, and an appreciation for the work the that was done there by the ironworks' staff and the volunteers that strive to bring their story back to life.

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