Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, 5AM, the sun wasn’t anywhere near the horizon. AMB and I were packed up and leaving Glenshaw. People were out already, visiting Walmarts and Target stores, lining up to get those early bird specials. We had other things on our minds, we were going on a road trip to the past.
Our first stop, (after coffee) was to pick up our good friend Frank, who was coming along with us today. By 6:30, we were heading east on Rt.22, watching the skyline slowly become visible. Traffic was very light, most sensible people were at home sound asleep, the shoppers were clustered around the malls, and we basically had the road to ourselves.
Our first step into the past was back into the late 1900’s, a visit to an abandoned fast food joint. At one time this was a hopping place, but today it was off to the side of a car dealers lot, empty and covered with signs promoting its great potential. We didn’t see that potential ourselves, but we did see a geocache hidden near-by!
On the road again, we pointed our little blue time machine (AMB’s Honda Fit) towards the town of New Florence and a century earlier. The sun had crossed over the horizon and as we came up Furnace Lane, we saw The Laurel Hill Furnace sitting beside the road. We pulled over and took some pictures.
The Laurel Hill Furnace
(Pictures will enlarge when clicked)
(Pictures will enlarge when clicked)
Plant growth on the sides
Ann Marie inside the stack
AMB and I had been here earlier in the month. The furnace is in great shape considering its age! It was built in 1846 and it has been supported by iron rods placed through its stones to hold it together. These along with the removal of trees and bushes have kept it in good shape. Roots are a major destructor of these structures. All four walls are whole and its four openings are complete. The work arch, is open to the center and you can stand inside the bosh and look up the chimney. You can also look between the bosh and the outer furnace, this is where an insulating layer of sand, clay and rubble was, used to insulate the heat of the furnace from its outer structure.
Pushing our time machine a bit further back, we drove another mile or two into the State Game Lands and into the years around 1819. About ¾ of a mile away from our parking spot, we saw the large pile of stone that was all that remained of the Baldwin Furnace. Situated below the dirt road going up the hill and a near-by stream it was hard to miss!
Hidden in the Gamelands
Nice solid wall against the hillside
This furnace was in fair shape. The back wall and a portion of the side wall, was falling in and the stones were far from tight. You could see how they were slowly starting to feel the effects of gravity, the spaces between them getting larger and larger. There was a wall made of rocks against the hillside. I thought this was only a thin wall but when I climbed up behind it, I found out it was about a foot thick, nice and solid. This furnace had only 2 openings but what we thought was interesting was how, even though the stonework was rough and “crude”, they had rounded out the two stones at the top of the openings. We were wondering if this was done for a reason or just to make it look nicer. It had obviously taken some time to do and of course, we all know that “time is money”!
Carved arches at the peaks of the openings
The furnace sits beside Baldwin Creek. Almost all of the furnaces we’ve visited have been near streams. They provided an important part of the iron making process. They turned water wheels which in turn operated bellows to increase the heat of the furnace.
This stream was especially nice, working its way over the rocks, making lots of waterfalls and filling the valley with the great, relaxing sound of splashing water.
It was during this time that we came up with a name for our days adventure. The “Darn, I Lost the Satellites Again Tour”. Frank was having problems with his GPS, it would take “forever” to find the satellites and then it would lose them almost immediately. We ran through a bunch of different suggestions as to why this was happening. My GPS, the same brand and model, was working fine.
Every time he lost his satellites, we heard that same phrase over again. ;-) (It seems that his batteries, while showing as being fully charges, just weren’t giving the unit enough power. Once new batteries were put in it, the problems seemed to clear up!)
Leaving the iron furnace and the early 1800’s, we moved back into the present as we passed the power plant located near New Florence. It was big and also pretty impressive looking! There is a lot more power pushed through this place than there was through the Baldwin Furnace! We’ve come a long way
Next we pushed out time selector towards the 1930’s, back to when Mr. Rogers was just a child. His maternal grandfather, Mr McFeely, owned a piece of land near-by. On this property was Buttermilk Falls. When young Fred visited his grandfather, they would roam through the woods here, often ending up at the falls. It was easy to see why he enjoyed this place once we visited it!
The showpiece is definitely the falls. Crossing over a wide piece of rock 45 feet above the valley below, it cascades down across the ledges below.
Old structures above the falls
Ann Marie and Frank exploring the ruins
It was nice to be walking in the same area that the Pittsburgh celebrity and hero of children and adults worldwide, had walked himself. There were some ruins at the top of the falls, what exactly they were I don’t know. They were covered with moss and grass and you could almost imagine mythical sprites hiding amongst them. It was an enchanted type of place. In a 1996 interview, Mr. Rogers told how he used to climb on the ruins and crawl behind the waterfall.
After getting our Fred Rogers fix, we took a hike into a nice steep valley, Stinson Hollow. The trail went down, down and then a bit further down. It really wasn’t “that” bad, but getting back up….well…
The slopes of Stinson Hollow
Back at the car, we headed back into the 1800’s again. This time we were heading towards the Buena Vista Furnace, sitting near the Ghost Town Trail and Blacklick Creek. We could see the furnace but couldn’t get to it because of the steep hillsides on either side of the trail. At one time there was a rail line coming through here, known as the Blairsville Secondary, now instead of trains it is used mostly by bikes. Walking along the top of the slope, we finally came to a spot we could easily (?) work our way down. Once on the trail, we found a nice wide path down to the furnace.
The furnace was built back in 1847 and operated until 1856, a total of nine years. It was extremely well built. The stones were chiseled square and were expertly fitted together. The corners are sharp and all angles meet in nice tight angles. It looks as if it had been planned, not just put together with what was at hand.
7 years ago, it was still in the woods
Very nicely made triangular front opening
Nice masonry, complete with sharp edges!
Insides are now exposed
Back walls collapsing
One corner has crumbled and there are signs of disruption on the other faces, but if you look at some of the corners, they look as if you could cut yourself on their edges. The front opening is in good shape, the other two openings are fairing a bit worse. One was included in the crumbling corner, the top of its arch is just visible above the rubble. The one on the opposite side is still standing and holding its shape, but some of the cover stones have fallen, exposing the rocks making the arch and the filler stones on the sides. The trees that once surrounded it have been cleared away, it now sits in a wide, open field.
What an active iron furnace looked like
In the 9 years this operated, it employed 61 men and boys to run it. These people lived near-by in houses that have since disappeared along with the supporting structures and the loading bridge that was once attached to its top. You can’t help but wonder where all these people lived. There are never any signs or ruins of buildings other than the furnaces. Perhaps they knew that they wouldn’t last long and didn’t bother to make permanent structures. I could imagine a community being settled here, the area around the furnace is a wide flat field. There aren’t a lot of stones like there was around the Baldwin Furnace, approximately 10 miles to the south.
Moving closer towards present day, we headed into the late 1940’s. We found an old iron coal tipple, slowly rusting away. We parked about ¾ mile away from it and followed a grassy road into a shallow valley. The one side was covered with no trespassing signs. The other side sloped down to a nice small creek, winding its way in a twisty path through the hollow. We came to a pipe gate that crossed the road and beyond that, we started into what used to be a mine of some type. The ground was covered with chunks of coal and there were lots of mounds of dirt. There were piles of rusting steel and we passed a large motor lying on its side. Old rotten wood that once was a structure of some type was in a pile, slowly getting smaller and smaller as nature took back what was once taken from it. Cresting a small hill and rounding a bend, we finally saw the top of the tipple.
Once upon a time, it was called Thompson #1, I imagine it is still called that to the few people that know it is here. It is located near Mardis Run, a little north of the town of Armagh. Of course, it wasn’t just to see the tipple that brought us here, there was a cache near-by. This is one of the great things about geocaching, you never know where or what you might see….or learn!
After signing the log in the cache and exploring the structure a bit, we started back…unfortunately, the leader of the hike led us down a hill instead of up….and we had to retrace our steps. It was getting towards the end of the day and those steps were starting to matter! We were starting to tire out a bit and we still had another ¾ mile to go till we got to the car (time machine). (That leader would have been me…“ Sorry Guys!”)
Once we were back in our vehicle, we turned it towards the Pittsburgh area, but we had one last bit of history to visit before we returned.
The town of Blairsville is situated along the Conemaugh River. In 1889 the Johnstown Flood affected this community tremendously and later in 1936, the St. Patrick’s Day Flood came through reeking destruction. The Army Corps of Engineers decided that a dam was needed to help control these waters and the Conemaugh Dam project was started in 1949. As the waters rose behind the dam, many small communities were flooded out, slowly disappearing under the rising waters. In Blairsville many streets had to be abandoned and the people relocated. Near-by Rt.22 was relocated, passing near the town instead of going through it as it once had. Needless to say, this project was not popular with a lot of the townsfolk.
Once bordered by houses
All that remains of the old Blairsville
We crossed the new bridge that spans the river, the old foundations of the previous bridge are situated right beside it. At the far side, we turned into a section of old concrete road surface. A narrow road led up river, the road was muddy and alongside of it were the remnants of houses and the community that once thrived here. All that remains is flat pieces of land where the houses used to stand and an occasional set of steps leading up to.….nothing.
Frank finding the final cache of the day
After finding a cache hidden here, (surprise, surprise!) we turned all the dials on our time machine from the 40's towards the present day. We stopped for a cup of coffee at the near-by Sheetz and then turned onto the newly reconstructed Rt. 22. In about an hour, we were at Frank’s house and visiting with his wife and dog. Another 45 minutes and we were back at my house petting my dog.
Our trip back into time took us through a couple centuries and happily back to the time we love best…the present.
Hmmmmm, I wonder what this place will look like in another 100 years or so?
Hmmmmm, I wonder what this place will look like in another 100 years or so?