It seems that every big city now has a “ghost tour,” but here in the Adirondacks we have our very own ghost town. And what could be more appropriate than a Halloween tour of a ghost town?
Iron ore was discovered on the banks of the upper Hudson in 1826 and two businessmen, Archibald McIntyre and David Henderson, soon developed a mining operation that they conducted with varying success for the next three decades. To house the workers, a nearby village was built and named McIntyre, then renamed Adirondac around 1840.
McIntyre’s Adirondack Iron & Steel Company came to an end in 1858, and so did the village. Reasons for their demise include the difficulty in transporting iron from such a remote mountain location, impurities in the ore that made it difficult to process, a downturn in the global economy, a devastating flood that washed out the dams, and McIntyre’s death. The settlement of Adirondac again changed names, now being called simply “the deserted village.”
In 1876, the village and surrounding property was leased by a hunting and fishing club whose members replaced most of the dilapidated buildings with cottages. The little village was again populated and it got a new name: Tahawus. With the onset of World War II, the National Lead Company began mining titanium for the war effort. Mining operations continued to grow after the war and the sporting club members were evicted to provide housing for the mine employees. In 1962, the mining company relocated the workers to Newcomb. Some buildings were moved, others left behind, and the village became a ghost town for the second time.
Unlike the well-preserved ghost towns of the arid Western states, Tahawus has succumbed to the severe Adirondack climate. The dozen or so buildings that now remain, mostly constructed between 1890 and 1930, have collapsed roofs and walls, but as I wandered along the road, it took little imagination to picture the bustling community that once thrived here. Looking through the empty window sashes at the brick fireplaces, cast iron bathtubs, and brightly painted wainscoting, I could almost see the ghosts of those early Adirondack workers.
Some of the buildings are located immediately on the road; others are set back quite far, requiring a short hike through the balsam-scented woods that had been front yards and gardens in the previous century. While exploring, I came across several utility poles that are now enveloped in a veneer of bright green moss. Their brown ceramic insulators appeared to be the type used for electric lines, not phone lines, making me think that the isolated community was deprived even of Ma Bell’s services.
Thanks to the efforts of the Open Space Institute, the oldest building in the village is also the best preserved – the McNaughton Cottage, where the owner and manager had resided during the original 19th century mining operation. It was here where Teddy Roosevelt stayed in 1901 before his dramatic midnight ride to the presidency following the assassination of President William McKinley.
Ironically, the town is more accessible now than when it was the bustling home to 400 workers in the 1840s. Getting there now requires a short drive on a well-paved county road, not the two-day journey by buckboard from the Saratoga train station.
If you go: From Northway exit 29, go west on Blue Ridge Rd (Cty Hwy 2b) for 18 miles, then turn right (north) onto Tahawus Rd (Cty Hwy 28) and continue until it ends at the ghost town.
Photos by Marty Plante: interior of one of the cottages; the main street in Tahawus; a moss-covered utility pole; the McNaughton Cottage; exterior of another cottage.