Ramble On

Monday, November 30, 2009

A Thanksgiving Day History Lesson

On Thanksgiving morning after breakfast and before the big meal at the Mimslyn Inn, I took Mary, Mom and Nancy around for a drive. Now, it's not quite the celebration of the first Thanksgiving meal, which is probably a tradition many others observe. And while we were visiting our destinations, we saw a lot of hunters out in blaze orange or camo ("Realtree" appears to be the preferred pattern in this part of Virginia), and plenty of pickup trucks parked along side woods and fields for a morning venison hunt.
Our drive took us by the River’s Bend Ranch – where Nancy likes to bring the family in the summer, by the little landing along US 240 between Newport and Stanley – the water was high from recent rains, and finally to Catherine Furnace – near Newport and a little town called Grove Hill.
The furnace is a 20x20 pyramid, rising 20 feet so that it is 10x10 at the top. It remains standing in remarkably good shape. From http://www.vagenweb.org/shenandoah/hom/S_catfur.html , we know it was built in about 1840, after a couple of years of scouting locations and acquiring the land grants needed to support it – these operations required more than 20,000 acres to supply wood for charcoal to conduct the furnace operations. There is a link here (http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=15892) to the image of the historical marker near the site, just visible to the right in this photo.

Also, I’ve been reading a book “The Undying Past of Shenandoah National Park” – there is an Amazon link below, which goes into a lot of detail about these historic mining and forge operations in the area. Like most early industrial age processes, the amount of human energy invested in the process is simply amazing.
Furnaces were located near good water sources – in these two photos there is a view of the little stream that runs alongside the furnace before joining Cub Run, which was the route the pig iron was hauled along on its way to the river and then onward to the industry at Harpers Ferry. Visible in the woods across the small stream are stone walls and earth works that supported the work - access ramps for hauling charcoal and other materials to the furnace.
With our nice historical perspectives tour all taken care off, we went back to the house for a few minutes before setting out for our meal at the Mimsyn. We all chose the “traditional” main course – ham AND turkey, green beans, dressing, and mashed potatoes. Seconds were available, but none of us took them. For desert, apple, pecan, or pumpkin pie – all varieties were sampled at our table. All in all, a nice Thanksgiving Day.

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