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The cache is a magnetic key holder placed near the historic Beckley Furnace built in 1847. Nothing to swap but quite a history lesson in the visit.
The sense of history in Litchfield County in the northwest corner of Connecticut runs as deep as the iron ore once mined from beneath its surface in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
More than 40 stone-and-brick blast furnaces once dotted the countryside. The huge chimneys are at least 30 feet high, and inside, raw ore was melted into pig iron to help feed a nation’s growing industries.
Nearly a century has passed since the fires were quenched, and only a few of these furnaces remain standing today. The primitive smelters, supported by rich deposits of ore nearby, were a memory in danger of being lost forever—until the town of Canaan decided to restore a few that remained standing.
The Beckley Furnace, built in 1847 in East Canaan, has received the most attention. With a $250,000 grant from Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection, the Friends of Beckley Furnace began in 1996 to oversee repair and restoration of the crumbling brick and stone furnace.
Built by John Adam Beckley, the furnace was primitive by today’s standards, but it helped supply the nation with pig iron for manufacturers producing weapons for the Civil War, ship’s anchors, farm equipment, tools, hardware, household utensils, and countless other items.
Giant bellows, driven by a nearby water wheel, raised burning charcoal in the furnace’s core to temperatures sufficient to melt rock. Rail cars carried raw iron ore to workers who fed it into the furnace’s glowing, red maw, where it was heated and processed to emerge as molten crude, or “pig” iron, and slag (waste material).
Through much of the early 19th century, East Canaan was a center of Connecticut’s “Iron District.” A hamlet really, the village is part of Canaan (pop. 4,000), whose downtown was once a railroad hub between Hartford and points north—one of the stops where iron was loaded on trains. The refurbished station, home now to several businesses, is a remnant of that era, and occasional freights still rumble through.
After 80 years of operation, the Beckley furnace closed in the winter of 1918-19. In 1946, the site was bought by the state for a park. In 1978, what remained of the old stone furnace was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, the repaired furnace stands tall beside the Blackberry River Dam, which provided energy to operate the bellows. Its restoration, moreover, has been a catalyst for seeking designation of the Upper Housatonic River Watershed region as a National Heritage Area.
(No hints available.)
- Beckley FurnacePicture of the now restored Beckley Furnace.
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Coordinates are in the WGS84 datum