Where In The Valley...?
What's the buzz about these beehive-shaped structures? Learn their history (and write us if you know where they are).
Where in the
Wedged behind a stand of trees, they look like a pair of giant beehives — or maybe strange outer-space props from the
Men In Black movies. Visible from one of the Valley’s major thoroughfares, these unusual structures are actually stone furnaces, which were used to make charcoal in the early 19th century. One Noah Gridley built them around 1825 to supply fuel for his nearby iron forge.
Because it burned hotter and cleaner than other fuel sources, charcoal was an important component of the early iron mining industry (which thrived in this particular corner of the Valley in the 1800s). It is made by distilling the carbon content from wood by slowly burning it at a low temperature. Using a dirt ramp, workers stacked the furnace with wood from the top. Long rakes separated out the charcoal from the ashes at the bottom. The unique construction of these furnaces — flat stones were laid out horizontally in a circular pattern — helped prevent air from leaking inside. (Too much oxygen could make the smoldering stack burst into flames, destroying the wood altogether.) Burns could last for 20 hours or more, and had to be tended round-the-clock by the charcoal maker, or collier. After cooling, the charcoal pieces were taken to blast furnaces, where they were used to separate iron ore from other minerals and impurities. By the turn of the century, the increasing lack of wood (among other things) made the whole process obsolete.
So do you know where in the Hudson Valley these stone stalwarts are located? If you think you do, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The first person to correctly identify their whereabouts wins a small prize; check next month’s issue to learn the answer.