Monday, June 3, 2013

Pine Grove Furnace State Park

My Memorial Day weekend was spent in one of my favorite state parks, Pine Grove Furnace. I love the trails, the riding, the hiking, and the artifacts of the 'iron age' in American history. Rather than camp, I stayed at the restored Ironmaster's Mansion, run by the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy. The mansion, built in 1829, serves as a hostel for Appalachian Trail hikers.

I arrived at the Ironmaster's Mansion hostel late in the afternoon, and after checking in and meeting the new innkeepers, I headed out for a short hike. I stopped by the furnace stack, which I always find worth photographing.

My short wandering hike took me to Fuller Lake, one of the two lakes in the park. I took my shoes off and waded into the cold water. It felt good. I stood there, jeans rolled up, a few minutes as I took in the view of the pines overlooking the lake, and felt the sand under my feet.

As I was standing there a man and his son approached. After the usual pleasantries about the weather, water temperature, and what not, he asked where I was staying. The hostel, I told him.

"Oh, there. Well, its probably OK now, but it used to be a dump. All those blacks from Harrisburg used to come here and they'd trash up the hostel and the park and the beaches."

I was stunned. I hadn't expected to encounter a racial slur on a beautiful late afternoon. I forget what I changed the topic to, but I changed it, and he and his son wandered off.

Some people will criticize me for not either confronting the man over his slur or attempting to change his mind. But just because you know cockroaches are bad doesn't mean you want to pick it up and handle it even to get rid of it. Also, I'm not the most persuasive advocate for a cause in person. I'm better on paper, or virtual paper, and I still don't think it needs to be dealt with any more than I have. You can't fix stupid.

However, I wonder if my conversation partner knew the history of the park, and of iron forges. Iron built America, but men built and ran iron forges. It was hard, difficult, dangerous work, and in Pennsylvania as often as not black men were working in the forges. At Pine Grove Furnace, one of the supervisors was a black man.

And this is as good a place to bring in the Underground Railroad as any. Although there's no documentation that Pine Grove was a station, its likely it was. Maryland is twenty-five miles south. Calendonia, the forge owned by abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens and now a PA state park, is a dozen miles south of Pine Grove Furnace. Boiling Springs, a dozen miles north, had a safe house on the Underground Railroad. So there's a chain of stops through what would have been wooded wilderness 150 year ago. Add in the black communities that formed around the iron forges, and the 'secret room' at the Ironmaster's Mansion, and its a certainty to me.

After getting the sand off my feet, I walked back to the hostel and spent a quiet night.

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A Taste For The Woods: Pine Grove Furnace State Park

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Pine Grove Furnace State Park