Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tahawus: An Adirondack Ghost Town for Halloween

Tahawus Ghost Town in the AdirondacksIt 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.”

Tahawus Ghost Town in the AdirondacksIn 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.

Utility pole at the Tahawus ghost town in the Adirondack MountainsSome 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.

McNaughton Cottage at Tahawus Ghost TownThanks 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.

Cottage in Tahawus ghost townI didn’t have time to see the ghost town’s cemetery, but that will give me something to look forward to on my next trip in the area.

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.

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Marty Plante

Marty Plante was born and raised in New York City, but now lives in a log cabin in the Adirondacks. He has hiked and paddled on four continents, but feels most at home in the North Country. Marty can be found in the Adirondack woods playing with his skis, hiking boots, snowshoes and disturbingly large collection of canoes.




6 Responses

  1. Paul Hai Paul Hai says:

    Thanks for sharing this Marty, and for highlighting one of the more fascinating places in the Adirondacks. In addition to opening the Upper Works to the public, OSI has invested in great interpretive signage in the Village and at the blast furnace south of town, helping all visitors learn more about this remarkable place and its rich story.

    I apologize for the presumption of offering a note on your nice piece, but wanted to clarify an admittedly convoluted detail in the hopes it will be helpful (and received with the good will intended).

    The Village of Adirondac was not known as Tahawus, instead its most common alternate name was the “Upper Works”. This is rightfully confusing because it is the Tahawus Club that occupies the Upper Works from 1876 until 1947.

    The place known as Tahawus until 1940 was the then junction of the Upper Works Road and the Blue Ridge road,7 miles or so south of the Upper Works, which boasted a few buildings and was predictably called the “Lower Works” being down stream/lower along the Hudson River.

    When NL built the new village in 1940 just south east of the Upper Works village, where the Tahawus Club was still active, they appropriated the name Tahawus from the Lower Works.

    It was this new community of Tahawus that was almost entirely moved to Newcomb, no buildings from the Upper Works village were relocated. Many of the homes and buildings, including two churches and the general store are still active and important structures in Newcomb.

    • Marty Plante Marty Plante says:

      Hi Paul,

      Thanks for the clarification. While researching the history of the village for this article, I ran into some conflicting information and tried to err on the side of caution when there was a conflict between the various sources. Your comments clear up the confusion.

      – Marty

  2. Betty Gereau says:

    For information about the village of Tahawus, which only existed for twenty-two years, check out the new book “Tahawus Memories 1941-1963, the story of a unique Adirondack hometown”. Thank you Paul Hai for addressing the confusion over the Upper Works and Tahawus village.

    In 1947 National Lead Company needed additional housing for its mine workers. They ended their lease with the Tahawus Club (which moved to the Lower Works) and reworked the Upper Works houses, making them into apartments and other housing units for workers and their families. The National Lead operation was highly successful and was, at one time, the largest titanium mine in the world. The associated village was an amazing beehive of activities with an incredible YMCA – an awesome place for the kids who grew up there.

  3. Bridget bundrick says:

    After reading your article I visited the ghost town you wrote about. What a neat forgotten about place! We couldn’t find the cemetery. I was wondering if you could tell me where it’s located?

  4. Jeff Rutkowski says:

    My father, Nicholas Rutkowski had many occasions to visit the town of Adirondac when he was a NYS Trooper. His barracks, in Long Lake was a rented room in a private home and had a hand crank telephone.

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