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Snowmobiling through the Katahdin Iron Works

Ironing out the past
RELATED TOPICS: MAINE | TRAILS | EAST
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This late 19th century iron works ruins, including its giant blast furnace, give snowmobilers a glimpse at this area
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Heating it up! There were 19 charcoal kilns on this site near Brownville, Maine, in the late 1800s, but only one remains. Both it and the blast furnace here were restored in 1966 and are easily accessed via snowmobile.
Since snowmobiling became a recreational sport in Maine, the Katahdin Iron Works, or “K-I” as the locals refer to it, has been a popular site for snowmobilers seeking interesting and fun destinations for a ride. The Katahdin Iron Works is situated on the banks of the Pleasant River just 5 miles outside of the small town of Brownville, Maine.

It still has the blast furnace and one of the 19 charcoal kilns that made this site a working iron producer from 1846 until 1890.

The site is easily accessible from numerous starting points in the region and is 11 miles from Dover-Foxcroft, 20 miles from Milo, 30 miles from Greenville and 40 miles from Millinocket. Prior to leaving on any trip, make sure and check in with the local snowmobile club for changes such as trail closures. This past year, the ITS 110 connector from Greenville to the iron works was closed changing the trip distance from Greenville from a 30-mile to a 70-mile ride. In 2009, a suspension bridge over the West Branch of the Penobscot River and a new trail was constructed to more directly link Millinocket with the trail systems to the south, greatly increasing accessibility to riding in that county.

My core group of riders: my daughter Maria, my cousin Mike Murray and friends Roland Voisine and Lorrie Lanphere, log a lot of miles together during the season. When discussing different ride options for the day, the idea of riding to “K-I” came up and we realized that most of the group, and my friend Jon Fortier who was riding with us that day had never been there.
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Stampeding Goat Trail
We headed out on a beautiful March day with temperatures climbing to the upper 20’s. Our starting spot was Millinocket, and the leisurly ride to the iron works would be about 40 miles. The region had received 6 inches of snow a few days before and the trail groomers had the trails in awesome condition.
We rode the Katahdin Loop Trail then the B Pond trail to the Gauntlet Trail, which takes you across the Pleasant River on a bridge at Gauntlet Falls. When we turned on to the Gauntlet Trail, we were the first to ride it since it had been groomed the night before.

After you cross at Gauntlet Falls a local club trail that we like to call a “goat trail” cuts through the backcountry and it is not uncommon to see a deer or moose during that stretch of the ride. The journey to the iron works is extremely scenic taking you past Ragged Mountain, Jo-Mary Mountain, Big and Little Wilkie Mountains and Saddleback Mountain. The trip was so enjoyable, that it seemed we arrived at the works in no time.

The iron works is maintained by the Maine Department of Conservation, Bureau of Parks and Lands and is an interesting place to visit both summer and winter. The last remaining charcoal kiln and the blast furnace were restored in 1966 and provide a glimpse into iron making in the late 1800s. Of the 19 charcoal kilns, only one remains.

At its zenith, the local community included a large hotel, boarding houses, saw mill, photograph saloon, a school and homes for the 200 workers that were employed here. A railroad line connected the Iron Works with Bangor to the south.

Riding Saddleback Mountain
We returned using a different trail that wound around Saddleback Mountain and back to the B Pond trail. This second trail was about 5 miles longer making the round trip approximately 85 miles, a pleasant day’s ride.

Visiting the iron works and experiencing this snapshot of American history by snowmobile is something few people will experience. Being able to share the experience with family and friends builds memories that will last a lifetime. Don’t forget to bring your camera!

More info about the Katahdin Iron Works, visit the Maine Department of Conservation website, http://maine.gov/doc/parks/programs/history/kiw/history.htm or visit http://maine.gov/doc/nrimc/mgs/explore/mining/sites/sept03.htm
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The original blast furnace was constructed in 1846, and the Katahdin Iron Works and its 19 kilns remained in this location until 1890. At its peak, the local community included a large hotel, boarding house, mill, photograph saloon, a school and a railroad line from the Katahdin Iron Works to Bangor, Maine.
HISTORY OF PIG IRON
THE IRON MAKING industry started to develop in this part of Maine in 1836. Construction began here in 1841 with the incorporation of the Maine Iron Company at this site. In 1845, the iron works was purchased by David Pingree for $100,000. In June of 1846, the Katahdin Iron Works was incorporated, Pingree naming it in honor of Maine’s highest mountain.

The original blast furnace was built in 1846, however the current blast furnace was built in 1885 and was capable of producing 6,000 tons of iron. The iron works remained in operation at this location until 1890.
Iron ore was mined on Ore Mountain, just across the Pleasant River about a mile from this site. A 4-foot thick deposit of iron ore was discovered just below the earth’s surface. A dam was built across the outlet of the river from Silver Lake, just a short distance from the blast furnace.

The power of the river was used to turn a water wheel that drove the air pump that blasted air into the furnace. Charcoal and iron ore was measured and deposited into the furnace along with limestone, which acted to remove contaminants from the molten iron. As the charcoal burned and air was “blasted” in, the high temperatures melted the ore. Carbon from the charcoal combined with the ore to form a high carbon molten iron. At the bottom of the furnace was a clay plug. When the molten iron accumulated in the bottom of the furnace, the plug would be broken to allow the iron to run out into molds made in the sand of the casting room floor to form “pig iron” that was sold to various industries.
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