This is New York State Museum Week, highlighting some of the best of what our state has to offer. Among the finest in the North Country, and at a price that can’t be beat (free), is the Lyon Mountain Mining and Railroad Museum, housed in the former railroad depot building. This community project has grown into a remarkable facility dedicated to regional and town history. The focus, of course, is on the iron mining facility that operated in the town for a century, producing some of the finest iron ore on earth.
No matter what your expectations are, you’ll be amazed at the quantity and quality of the displays. To top it all off, there are friendly, helpful folks on hand anxious to share their knowledge of the town’s history, further enhancing the museum experience.
This is a fun place to visit, and highly educational as well. History is important, and this small village played a role on the county, regional, state, national, and international levels of history.
The nation found many uses for Lyon Mountain iron over the years. It proved ideal for making high-grade steel cables, and today supports many of the world’s most famous suspension bridges, from the George Washington Bridge on the East Coast to San Francisco’s Golden Gate on the West Coast.
In the late 1800s, iron from the mines was shipped to Pennsylvania and manufactured into armaments used by our troops in the Spanish-American War. In the 1930s, when Sweden cut off its supply of iron to Britain, Germany was the benefactor. At Lyon Mountain, production levels were ramped up to provide England with the high-grade ore needed to prepare its defenses. During World War II, tank armor and the steel plates used to protect America’s warships were created from Lyon Mountain ore.
In the early 1930s, when the Model A Ford was at peak popularity, mine manager J. R. Linney said of Lyon Mountain ore: “There is some of it in every Ford car.” In the 1950s and 1960s, the same ore was used in naval and aircraft production. Besides setting the standard for quality suspension cables, Lyon Mountain’s high-grade ore has been used for fine cutlery, top-quality scissors and tableware, telegraph lines, wire ropes, hoop skirts, and barbed-wire fencing.
There were local uses as well, and in the realm of sports, the world-record-setting bobsled Ironshoes was constructed of Lyon Mountain iron. Mine employees were among the men who rode the locally produced sleds to many record performances, evidenced by medals and photographs adorning the museum’s walls.
The actual work of removing ore from deep underground is portrayed in a number of wonderful exhibits. There are mining drills, rock walls with drilled holes, helmets, lunch containers (you’ll see where the terms lunchpail and lunchbucket came from), huge drill bits, dynamite crates, and countless photographs. Bringing it all together is the museum’s showcase piece, a remarkable diorama that clearly describes how the mines operated both above and below ground. It was created in 2010 by Bill Kissam and Jim Davis.
There are videos of miners explaining their work and discussing accidents; exhibits of nearby Chazy Lake and Chateaugay Lake; a number of mannequins in proper costume, depicting everything from baseball players to miners; and many hands-on activities. And there’s something for everyone, including a craft table, train set, and other features for young children.
The museum gift shop features books, mugs, calendars, clothing, and other items. Admission, as mentioned earlier, is free. A box is available for those who wish to donate.
The Lyon Mountain Mining and Railroad Museum is many things; foremost among them is an example of what can be accomplished by a group of dedicated volunteers wishing to preserve history. If ever anyone confirmed the veracity of “Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” it’s the folks of Lyon Mountain. Pay them a visit this year―you won’t be sorry.
Photos: Top―A powder box from the Lyon Mountain mines. Bottom―A memorial plaque honoring those who died in mining accidents at Lyon Mountain and Standish.