Thursday, April 13, 2017

USS Monitor: Maker's mark uncovered in turret believed from iron foundry in Hudson Valley

(Photos courtesy of Mariners' Museum and Park)

A discovery in the turret of the famed Civil War ironclad USS Monitor has brought to light the story of an iron mill that for decades was the industrial heartbeat of a Hudson Valley town.

The Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, Va., announced this week that conservators removing corrosion from a brace uncovered the word “ULSTER.” It’s the first time a maker’s mark was found in the turret.

Officials believe a forward diagonal support brace was produced by Ulster Iron Works in Saugerties, about 100 miles north of New York City. The brace is between two guns and is separate from the large turret "ring."

“While this firm was never mentioned as a supplier during the Monitor’s construction at Continental Iron Works, it is now believed that Ulster provided materials for modifications to the ship while it was undergoing sea trials at the Brooklyn Navy Yard,” said the museum, which houses the USS Monitor Center.

Ulster Iron Works, which operated from 1827 to 1888 and took advantage of iron deposits in Ulster County, was a Navy contractor.

Will Hoffman, Monitor project manager, told the Picket his team is hypothesizing that when the ironclad was turned over to the Navy and the turret was tested, “they used Ulster to make modified parts. This makes sense, too, because the company was located just up the Hudson River.”  

Audrey Klinkenberg, historian for the town of Saugerties, said she had previously heard of a connection, but the find was compelling. “We’ve always had in our literature that Ulster Iron Works had made … plates for the Monitor.”

Interior of Monitor turret (Mariners' Museum and Park)

Beginning last August, conservators in Virginia used dry ice to remove corrosion from large wrought iron artifacts on the Monitor. Among the cleaned items were engine room structural bulkheads, gun slides and the forward and aft diagonal support braces from the turret, the museum said.

The turret, which housed the warship’s guns, currently rests on a lower support pad. Hoffman said his team is preparing for this summer’s placement of a new support system.

Remember, the turret is upside down, and therefore, all the weight of the guns and carriages were resting on (the roof). The roof was not designed to hold that amount of weight,” Hoffman wrote in an email. “Currently, the turret is still sitting on that support pad, which inhibits our ability to remove the roof and subsequently turn the object over.”

Officials said they want to do more research on the role of Ulster Iron Works.

The manufacturer, which drew workers from as far away as England and Wales, was known for using European technology. A process called “double puddling” could produce appreciable amounts of high-grade bar iron.

Damage to the USS Monitor turret (Library of Congress)

Histories kept at the Saugerties Public Library provide accounts of the foundry’s history.

“History of Ulster County, New York,” written by Nathaniel B. Sylvester in 1880, details the manufacture of a chain with small links for the Navy. It passed a series of stress tests at the Navy yard in Washington.

Ulster Iron Works sat on the lower side of Esopus Creek in Saugerties. A dam and a long raceway cut through rock provided water power for the mill. The mill had an annual capacity of 6,700 net tons of iron products.

An old pamphlet, “Focus on Saugerties,” mentions the demise of the company after steel, which was stronger, began to surpass iron in demand.

The mill’s buildings are long gone. “The wheels have stopped turning and the Esopus Creek does no work.” The site, according to the book, serves as a “monument to advancing achievement.”

COMING SOON: More on Ulster Iron Works and what Saugerties is known for today

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