Monday, August 28, 2017

Re-enactment group meets with police

Representatives of an Ohio organization planning a Civil War reenactment said they have been meeting with police to discuss safety concerns about next month's event after the deadly rally and protests in Charlottesville, Va. • Article

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Bust of Civil War statue found by police

Officials in Philadelphia say the stolen bust of a Civil War general has been found under a bridge. The bust of Gen. James A. Beaver was found Friday under an Interstate 95 bridge near FDR Park. It's believed to have been stolen from the Smith Memorial Arch, a Civil War monument in West Fairmount Park. • Article 

Friday, August 25, 2017

Man donated Civil War artifacts to Monocacy battlefield. He called police about one rejected item. It turned out to be a live shell

Park was able to keep these artillery rounds, bullets (NPS)

A middle-aged man who lived within several miles of Monocacy National Battlefield near Frederick, Md., called rangers earlier this week. He had a box of artifacts that had been collecting dust for years and he wanted the park to have it.

The staff, interested in using Civil War items to educate visitors – even if they had no firm connection to the 1864 battle – met with him Tuesday and looked at the “very nice collection,” said curator Tracy Evans.

There were a cartridge box, breastplate, belt buckle, canteen, bullets, a cap box, two solid-shot shells -- and one more artillery round that got their attention.

Replica 10-pound Parrott gun (Charles Edward/wikipedia)

They could see the fuse for the 10-pound Parrott rifle shell had been removed, but because of rust and corrosion, they could not tell whether the round had gunpowder. “You are looking for evidence of a hole where it had been drilled (to remove the powder),” said Evans. “That’s when we said we were not sure if it was live or not.”

They told the man they could not accept it. The alarmed collector left and within minutes called police from the parking lot, setting in motion the 90-minute closing of the visitor center and the summoning of a state police bomb squad that detonated the round in a nearby field, Evans told the Picket on Friday.

The technicians used a small amount of C-4 explosives to bust the Parrott shell open.

“The C4 actually ignited the powder that was in it. It was live,” said Evans. Inside the cylindrical  shell was case shot with black powder.

Federal cartridge box among donation (NPS)

Park officials said they believed this was the first time a piece of live munitions had been brought by a layman to this particular National Park Service property.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal told the Frederick News-Post that there is always the potential for a citizen in historic areas of the state to find such an item.

“All the time we hear about someone saying I got this from my great-grandfather and this was in the house when I bought it,” said Evans. Park officials are advising people to be aware of the potential for problems with such ammunition.

A collector may think the round is solid shot, without black powder. “It can be very dangerous,” she said.

Police or other agencies almost always destroy artillery rounds when they get a call. The park's Facebook post about the incident drew many comments critical of the detonation, saying it was a waste of an artifact. The staff had this reply:

“As powder gets older it becomes more unstable. There is no way to know if it would never be a danger or explode even under the best conditions. Considering the lives of staff and visitors as well as the artifacts we house, it is our policy no to accept live projectiles. It is up to the owner to decide if they want to keep or dispose of it.”

Canteen will be shown for educational purposes (NPS)

Evans said the donor was “a very nice guy” who later told them “he always kind of wondered” about the shell’s status.

The park is keeping the rest of the items, including the solid shots. “To have … an actual historic piece really brings it to life to people,” Evans said.

The episode could have even more of a disruption if it occurred one day earlier. About 1,000 people were at the park and visitor center for the total solar eclipse.

Note: The Picket was unable to obtain a photo of the detonated shell

Thursday, August 24, 2017

New findings on H.L. Hunley sinking

A former Duke University student believes she has solved the mystery of how the eight Confederate crew members on board the world's first submarine to sink an enemy warship were killed, but the researchers with access to the H.L. Hunley in South Carolina say her theory is not new. • Article

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Henry Wirz: Monster or scapegoat? You can decide, talk about it as Andersonville NHS 'live tweets' stockade commander's trial


Beginning Wednesday, Capt. Henry Wirz will be retried for his actions as stockade commander at the infamous Confederate prison at Andersonville, Ga.

The staff at Andersonville National Historic Site will begin “live tweeting” highlights of the proceedings against Wirz, considered a cruel, indifferent commander by some and a scapegoat by others. A military tribunal in Washington, D.C., began hearing the case against the Swiss-born officer on Aug. 23, 1865.

The staff will typically tweet 15-20 posts for each day the court was in session, said park guide Jennifer Hopkins. The tag will be #WirzTrial.

(Picket photo)
“We'll have discussion-prompting questions almost every day, at least once,” said Hopkins. “The questions will usually come after a testimony to try to get our Twitter audience involved in the trial and voice their opinions on the testimonies, objections, and rulings.”

(NON-SPOILER ALERT: This Picket post will not divulge the verdict in the case.)

Nearly 13,000 soldiers and civilian captives died at Camp Sumter over 14 months -- an average of more than 30 a day in that span. I visited the central Georgia site on Aug. 13. The 1864 tally for that day, during the heat of the summer, was 109.

Reporters who covered trial (Library of Congress)

Wirz’ controversial trial was a national sensation, covered by newspapers just a couple months after the trial of accused conspirators in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Officials who decided to try the officer in a military -- rather than a civilian -- court said the country was in some ways still in a state of war. The defense considered itself at a disadvantage on the rules of evidence.

A litany of accusations was made against Wirz for his management of the prison.

The first was a conspiracy charge, claiming he “maliciously, willfully, and traitorously conspired to injure the health and destroy the lives of soldiers in the military service of the United States, then held prisoners of war; in violation of the laws and customs of war.”

Did he, for example, wantonly withhold food and shelter and aid for those inside?

The second was murder, with specific allegations of personally killing or ordering guards to shoot prisoners.

A.J. Riddle photo of the prison in August 1864

One of the great paradoxes of the Wirz trial is that both prosecution and the defense sought to prove that Wirz was following orders,” the National Park Service says. “The prosecutors hoped to convict higher-ranking Confederate officials and Wirz hoped to absolve himself by passing responsibility up the chain of command.

This will be the first time the park will do a live tweet. The project will go well into the fall, and the hope is that it will help facilitate discussion on controversial topics. Some of the conversations also will be carried on the park's Facebook page.

Walking careful line on testimony

Hopkins said she and a few other staffers have spent a few months poring through testimony of about 140 witnesses, which included prisoners, guards, civilians and Confederate and Federal officials.

“We are trying to stay to as close to the transcript as possible so people will not accuse us of being biased,” she said.

Stocks along recreated wall (Picket photo)

There is no question that conditions at Camp Sumter were horrendous. Foul water, the heat, poor sanitation and contaminated water made life miserable for those held in the stockade. Wirz’ defenders say he did the best he could and he could not control decisions made by superiors outside the stockade, such as putting too many POWs on the site. Also, command at Sumter was compartmentalized, making it difficult to control all aspects of the camp.

The end of prisoner exchanges led to the rapid overcrowding.

The officer had a track record of inconsistent treatment of prisoners, even before he arrived in Georgia.

“At times, he proved helpful and sympathetic. On other days he flew into what one prisoner described as a ‘spasmodic rage,’ the park says of his tenure at Andersonville. “Unable to carry out his orders to maintain the stability and security of the stockade by military means, Wirz used his reputation and behavior to maintain order.” That included withholding rations or ordering harsh punishment for minor infractions.

The commandant was accused of personally killed or ordering the shooting or mistreatment of POWs. During his trial, some of that was found to be hearsay. On the stand, Wirz was asked about a guard shooting a prisoner. He said he issued the order, but meant it as a threat and thought the soldier would not do it.

“The guards hated him,” said Wade Barr, a volunteer on site.

Entrance to national cemetery at Andersonville (Picket photo)

The different sides of Henry Wirz

The officer also tried to help those suffering inside, said Hopkins. He wrote to superiors asking for help and tried to have dams placed in a stream to improve sanitation. That request was denied. Wirz testified he allowed captive drummer boys to be kept outside the stockade.

But then there was the other side of Wirz: “He turns away wagons full of supplies,” Hopkins said, including an offer of assistance from women living near the camp.

Paul Finkelman, a professor at Albany Law School in New York, told an audience in 2014 that defense lawyers said Wirz did the best he could under terrible circumstances and a lack of food.

“Georgia is full of food,” said Finkelman, adding that Wirz could have had prisoners bring in barrels of fresh water. “Instead, he thinks of new ways to harass prisoners and prevent them from getting basic nutrition and any kind of basic health.”

To this day, the fact that Wirz was the only officer to be tried over conditions at Andersonville remains controversial. Defenders said plummeting conditions in the Confederacy in the last year of the war and the lack of materiel assistance made the commandant the target of a vengeful nation.

A monument (right) in the small hamlet of Andersonville was dedicated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1909. One panel said Wirz showed humanity under “harsh circumstances.”

Hopkins acknowledged many are passionate about the Civil War, Andersonville and Wirz.

She said the trial tweets are designed to have people do their own research. “Here is what the trial says. You can make your own decision.”

Coming soon: A closer look at the case for, against Wirz

Monday, August 21, 2017

Stone Mountain: Many visitors ambivalent

Three-fourths of those who travel to Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta come to enjoy the natural beauty. But most are aware of the giant Confederate carving that is the park’s focal point. What do they think should be done with memorial that honors heroes of a cause that fought to preserve slavery? • Article

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Action! Civil War mill ruins near Atlanta will resume tours, filming inside after stabilization

Don Scarbrough surveys portions of New Manchester mill 
Work along one of factory walls

As he has for the better part of 20 years, Don Scarbrough trudged with a visitor along Sweetwater Creek State Park’s Red Trail. Our objective on this muggy summer afternoon was a towering piece of Georgia’s Civil War history that’s long been in ruin.

“I never get tired of it,” Scarbrough said of the walk. He used a trekking pole to reach the fenced site of a creek-powered mill that produced cloth and other textiles for the Confederacy.

The interpretive ranger loves the natural beauty and creatures that reside in this park in Douglas County, just west of Atlanta. What about the humans who lived here?

“I talk about a lot of sad history,” Scarbrough said of his guided tours. There were the Native Americans who had to sell their land so that whites could scour Sweetwater Creek and environs for gold. There were the slaves who were loaned out by white citizens to do much of the hard work.

Graffiti believed left by Federal soldiers

The remains of the brick mill tell another disturbing story.

After it was torched by Union cavalry in July 1864, nearly 100 New Manchester residents, mostly female workers and their children, were sent north by train -- under protest -- to spend the rest of the war. Many took an oath of allegiance to the United States. Some never came back to Georgia. You can read details of that sorrowful story here.

Scarbrough and other staff members are looking forward to the day they can unlock the gate and again take park visitors inside the ruins, where they can gaze upon graffiti left by Federal soldiers, bricks damaged by the fire and the impressive wheel room.

They have not been able to do so for nearly three years because of worries about the ruins’ stability and safety.

Wooden arch will be removed after stabilization

Since early July, workers for Aegis Restauro LLC have been toiling on a $375,000 stabilization of remains of the New Manchester Manufacturing Co., which at five stories was the tallest building in North Georgia. Thread, yarn and cloth were initially produced when the factory began operations in 1849.

Workers are installing steel rods, new mortar and concrete caps on pillars. The project is expected to be completed by the end of September.

Once the project is complete, the picturesque mill interior will be available again for tours, weddings, photo sessions and filmmakers – all a source of revenue for the state.

The 2014 movie “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” starring Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, was shot at the mill. “Killing Season” (2013), with John Travolta and Robert DeNiro, included Sweetwater scenes, and another movie crew recently used the park.

While the interior will be available to only those with a guide, you can get impressive views of the mill from several angles outside the fence.

Mill was built to last, but didn't

It’s easy to see why investors chose the site for what was then called Sweetwater Factory. The creek bed drops in elevation, speeding the flow of water. A 1,400-foot millrace -- a channel into which water was funneled to the factory -- was built by slaves.

Today, when the water is high, kayakers scoot past the ruins. When the creek flow is lower, visitors “rock hop” through Sweetwater Creek.

Volunteer noticed middle column was leaning.

A few years ago, Scarbrough said, a group was paddling near the rapids and took a closer look. A member of the Friends of Sweetwater Creek State Park “thought a column was leaning slightly.”

Engineers visited the interior in late 2014 and it has been closed since. This summer’s work is the most significant since about 1990.

Slaves made the bricks and cut the lumber for construction of the mill and performed much of the labor. Stones quarried a mile or two below the site were carried by oxen-led wagons over Jack’s Hill to the site.

Courtesy D. Scarbrough
“This mill has an awesome foundation (left),” said Scarbrough, adding the builders’ skills and talents are evident today. Besides the structure, the millrace stones have largely stayed in position for nearly 170 years.

While fire was the chief danger for New Manchester in the mid-19th century, today it’s water. Rainfall and other moisture cause damage to seams in the brick, especially when they freeze and expand. The facelift is addressing that and other issues. The mill is fragile in places and there are loose bricks.

Officials hope the stabilization will preserve the historic site for at least several more decades.

Charlie Crawford, president of the Georgia Battlefields Association, said New Manchester “helps people understand both Civil War and industrial history, including the use of water power. It fits in well with Atlanta's origin story as a transportation, manufacturing and distribution center.”

'Operatives' marched off from ruins

The community that supported the mill – a store, post office, a leather goods shop, homes and a lumber mill – are long gone, making New Manchester a ghost town. When the mill was burned all of the metal machinery tumbled to the foundation. Much of that was removed in 1942 during a World War II scrap drive, the park learned.

(Picket photo)
Machinery remnants found after 2009 flood (Don Scarbrough)

If the ghosts are talking, they are likely the spirits of women who worked in the mill during the Civil War while their menfolk were at the front. They produced fabrics, including osnaburg, for assembly elsewhere. 

“A lot of cloth was made into Confederate uniforms in Atlanta,” said Scarbrough.

Bill Cahill, former president of the park friends group, said, “It was such a high-quality material, after they finished making a wagon load it was sent to Marietta or Atlanta.” 

Mary Deborah Petite’s book, “The Women Will Howl,” tells of the forced relocation of workers at New Manchester and a much larger group of 500 people at profitable mills in Roswell, a suburb just north of Atlanta.

Rendering of mill at visitor center

About the same time Federal cavalry was burning sites in Roswell, troopers with the 1st and 11th Kentucky Cavalry and 14th Illinois Cavalry – among other units -- occupied the town of New Manchester without firing a shot. They were surprised to see that of the 120 workers, all but 15 or 20 were women and children, Scarbrough said.

“Detachments from Stoneman's cavalry went to the mill twice,” said Crawford. "On 2 July they pulled out the belts that powered the machinery, and on 9 July they broke and burned the (mill).”

Torched were the factory and the company store, along with other buildings. From the Northern perspective, the workers were American citizens in open rebellion – a policy that outraged Southerners.

The so-called “operatives” were marched to Marietta for shipment north. They were placed in the Georgia Military Institute while they awaited trains.

There would be no trials at which they could defend themselves.


The 600 were shipped out July 10 and 11, with stops in Chattanooga and Nashville. Many were sent to Ohio and Indiana after they arrived in Louisville, Ky., where they were initially imprisoned in a hospital. A few died of typhoid, measles and other diseases.

“First housed and fed in a Louisville refugee hospital, the women later took what menial jobs and living arrangements could be found. Those in Indiana struggled to survive, many settling near the river, where eventually mills provided employment,” the New Georgia Encyclopedia says. “Unless husbands had been transported with the women or had been imprisoned nearby, there was little probability of a return to Roswell, so the remaining women began to marry and bear children.”

Very few ever made it back to Georgia. Mills were reopened in Roswell, but not at New Manchester. “They didn’t stay here. There was no way to make a living,” said Scarbrough.

From a preservation perspective, the discernible nature of the mill ruins help people understand what it did, said Crawford.

By comparison, Roswell is also a neat site, but only the drawings give one an idea of what was once there, whereas New Manchester Mill provides a more tangible example.”

Lives touched by war

Synthia Stewart
Scarbrough and I continued talking about New Manchester’s history as we walked back up to the park office.

Once inside, I revisited exhibits associated with the mill and props left after the production of “Killing Season.” Visitors can read the transcript of a recording by Synthia Stewart, who was a girl when the Yankees came to town. Her father served in the Confederate army. Stewart, among those transported north, was about 92 when the recording was made.

Many of those who worked at the mill for $1 day were fixtures in nearby Lithia Springs and other communities. The park hosted a reunion of descendants in 2004, the 140th anniversary of the mill's turning

Cahill said about 60 people from all over the country attended and swapped stories about their relatives. "It was awesome."

“We had one lady who came up here from Florida who was related to one of the mill workers, but had no idea of anything about him. She had only the name, he said. “We showed her all kinds of photographs of the guy she was related to.” 


At the park office, Scarbrough thumbed through files about the mill. One binder contained a census of New Manchester from 1860 to 1864. When known, the workers’ duties and whether they were in the Georgia militia are noted.

The remarks sections perhaps are the most interesting. “Andy’s father”; “town drunk”; “manufactured shoes with brothers”; “17 year old Confed. Soldier Captured at Factory.”

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Loss and hope at Petersburg battlefield: Cemetery lodge showcases sword, burial registry, record of freed slaves

Soldier-built church was used by Freedmen's Bureau (LOC)

Emmanuel Dabney
Civil War-era documents and artifacts on exhibit in a Victorian-era lodge at Poplar Grove National Cemetery in Virginia are reminders of death and despair, but also inspire hope. The Picket spoke this week with Emmanuel Dabney, curator at Petersburg National Battlefield, about the items, which were placed in the building for this spring’s rededication of the cemetery after an extensive rehabilitation project.

Freedmen’s Bureau: ‘Sense of hope’

A single page in a Freedmen's Bureau registry conveys the challenges facing former slaves left destitute and homeless by the Civil War: “lame”; “blind”; “sick for ever.”

The lodge features a copy of a May 1866 partial census record of free people who received assistance until they had to move within about a year of the war's end because of construction of the Poplar Grove cemetery. A nurse who wrote about her experiences said between 500 and 600 people lived on the site of a well-constructed camp built and left by the 50th New York Engineer Regiment, which was stationed near the 1864-65 battlefield.

School-age residents attended schools and adults received help in getting work and caring for their families.

“There was a sense of hope that springs forward from the end of slavery,” said Dabney. 

Blacks could for a time receive justice in courts and thousands learned to read and write.

On display: Copy of National Archives document

Nurse Charlotte Elizabeth McKay recounted a conversation she had with a carpenter doing repairs on her quarters. Would he have not done better to stay with his former master in North Carolina?

“Oh, no, indeed, madam. I’m bound to believe I can do better to have my own labor. To earn a hundred dollars for another man, and not get a hundred cents for yourself, is poor business.”

The bureau was closed in 1872. Blacks saw many setbacks in the decades to come as entrenched segregation and Jim Crow laws took effect.

“I want to make clear that this site has a layered history," Dabney said. "Those layers aren’t simply Union soldiers camped here and Union soldiers buried here.” A black community – with residents who toiled and dreamed -- existed for a time.

The sword with a roundabout journey

(National Park Service photo)

Park officials were thrilled to acquire a fallen Federal officer’s sword and scabbard in 2014. “We have very little in connecting … three-dimensional artifacts to people buried at Poplar Grove,” Dabney said.

Lt. Edwin I. Coe of the 57th Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteers was shot in the head in a June 17, 1864, attack on the battlefield. “He is in what turned out to be a series of poorly coordinated assaults on June 16, 17 and the day after his death… Union troops attacking … without all their troops at one given time,” the park curator said. The Yankees failed to break through and take vital railroad lines and Petersburg.

Lt. Edwin Coe
Like other items in the lodge, the text is concise -- so there was no room to tell the compelling, full story of the sword and scabbard, which the Picket wrote about in 2015

They somehow ended up for sale at a jewelry shop in Honolulu, Hawaii, before the park was contacted and purchased them. After the sword arrived, Petersburg staff took the blade to Poplar Grove. “To have it lying on top of his resting place, it doesn’t get much more powerful,” park staffer Chris Bryce told the Picket then. Officials still don’t know how the sword’s circuitous route ended up in the Aloha State.

Recording the dead

Poplar Grove’s first burial registry is on display for the first time. It was likely acquired in 1866, with the frontispiece bearing an 1869 notation. The last entry was made in the 1930s, Dabney said. All but a few dozen of the 6,100 graves in the cemetery belong to Union soldiers – the majority of them are unknown. 

Grave numbers were not entered in order; Dabney theorizes the entries were made as bodies were recovered on various parts of the sprawling battlefield and brought to Poplar Grove shortly after the war.

(National Park Service photos)

The book is open to two pages, one listing members of the U.S. Colored Troops. Some 331 African-American soldiers are buried at the cemetery. Most who are known died in hospitals. 

But not these men on page 71. “It is typical the unknown outnumber the known,” Dabney said. They are believed to have been killed in the valiant, but doomed Federal assault on the Crater.

Soldier’s emotional letter to children

Levi Hilton is believed to be among the unknown dead interred at Poplar Grove. Shortly before he was killed at Petersburg, the 37-year-old corporal with the 2nd Michigan Infantry wrote a four-page letter that consoled his children, discussed army life, food and the danger brought by Southern snipers.

“Alsa don't be asshamed to read your Bible and treasure it up in your Memory and persuade your Sisters to do the same I want all of you Children if you love me to be good children,” Hilton wrote, according to a CNN article.

The letter, an envelope and photo were donated by a descendant who attended the cemetery rededication. They are temporarily off display, but officials expect them to return.

The lodge was part of major project at cemetery (NPS)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Peoria monument: Lost? Thrown away?

A team of history enthusiasts in central Illinois is hunting for a Civil War memorial that went missing more than half a century ago. Peoria's Civil War monument was taken down during a construction project, but it was never returned, the Journal Star reported. Local historian Norman Kelly, a group member who has written about the disappearance, said he believes the monument "wasn't lost, it was thrown away." • Article

Saturday, August 5, 2017

What do USS Monitor, Jimmy Fallon have in common? Saugerties, NY. This town morphed from industrial 'Inferno' to a cool tourist spot

Postcard of the Ulster Iron Works (I Like Saugerties Facebook page)
A lighthouse is a big draw today (Courtesy of Saugerties Lighthouse)

Saugerties, New York, has all the right visuals for a gift calendar: a quaint village, vibrant art studios, horse competitions, an army of mums that bloom in the fall and a welcoming lighthouse perched on the bank of the Hudson River.

In the mid-19th century, Ulster Iron Works -- one of its burgeoning manufacturing sites – was lauded, too, for its setting.

“The mill is very picturesquely situated below the falls of the Esopus (Creek) and when in operation, especially in the evening, it presents a very attractive appearance,” notes the 1880 “History of Ulster County, New York.”

While Saugerties today is a tourist town (and the hometown of “The Tonight Show” host Jimmy Fallon), life was somewhat gritty during Ulster Iron Works’ heyday. There were occasional problems with intoxicated workers kicking up a bit too much excitement.

By the late 1800s, said Marjorie Block, president of the Saugerties Historical Society, the town had 49 taverns.

“They actually had to pass a law in the village … a lot of the guys mining the bluestone were using dynamite. The guys were coming through with the wagons, having a few drinks before going on.” A law forbade dynamite-carrying wagons from stopping.

Remains may be of later factory (Courtesy of Saugerties Historical Society)

In his volume, Nathaniel B. Sylvester defies the dry writing one might expect in a county history, imbuing the iron mill with virile might.

“Workmen, naked to the waist, running about with great red-hot bars of iron; the flames shooting out of those tall chimneys; the weird shadows falling grotesquely around; the sharp contract between the brilliant light and the dense darkness beyond – all unite to suggest the scenes of Dante’s ‘Inferno.’”

Saugerties’ population bloomed and industry employed thousands – at iron works, lead and paper production and the excavation of bluestone for New York City’s sidewalks. But times, and tastes, changed. Those industries today are long gone. Those who trace their lineage back to pre-Revolutionary War days rub shoulders with visitors and New York City expats who decided to retire in this bucolic location. It’s a tourist town.

So it may not be surprising that many townspeople were a bit surprised when word came this spring that a small part on the famous Civil War ironclad USS Monitor was found to have the mark “ULSTER.” Officials believe a forward diagonal support brace in the turret was produced by Ulster Iron Works in Saugerties. It was the first time a maker’s mark was found in the turret.

The company, which operated from about 1827 to 1888, took advantage of iron deposits in Ulster County or ore ferried through nearby canals. For a time, it was a U.S. Navy contractor.

Some local observers say residents have little knowledge of the important industrial history of Saugerties. “The collective memory is pretty weak,” said Chester Hartwell, who maintains the “I Like Saugerties” Facebook page.

But the Ulster discovery at a museum in Newport News, Va., has brought those days to the surface.

“This has spurred an interest in the historical society and we are going to take a look at it,” said Block.

Saugerties, N.Y.: The one and only

Dutch settlers were among the first Europeans to live in this region at the base of the Catskills, some 100 miles north of New York City. British forces burned homes, barns and sloops in Saugerties during the American Revolution.

The river town of Ulster was prospering by the early 19th century. Its name was changed in 1855 to Saugerties, the only community by that name in the United States.

Saugerties Historical Society is based in 1727  Kiersted house

A volume in the early 20th century
gave the story: “The Sawyer’s Creek, or Sawkill of local maps, was the scene of an unaccountable activity on the part of a man whose name, antecedents, residence, mode of life, and fate are all unknown, yet from whom a populous town drives its appellation. The ‘Little Sawyer,’ who established himself on the bank of a stream some ten miles above Kingston and antedated the earliest settlers whose names are recorded, has been referred to in old accounts as de Zaagertje and his mill as Zaargertje’s, of which Saugerties is a simple corruption.”

In the 1820s, entrepreneur Henry Barclay established Ulster Iron Works and later a paper mill. John Simmons, an Englishman, was brought in to run the iron mill.

Audrey Klinkenberg, Saugerties town historian, said Barclay wanted a family-friendly community. “He didn’t want his men to be drunk.” He sold land for three churches that would perhaps moderate behavior.

(Courtesy of Saugerties Historical Society)

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

Where did the raw materials come from?

Some came from ore deposits in the region. Saugerties and Kingston, downstream on the Hudson, also were transportation hubs and produced goods from coal and ore brought by canal from Pennsylvania.

The iron manufacturer was known for using European technology. A process called “double puddling” could produce appreciable amounts of high-grade bar, rod and hoop iron. Two giant wheels powered by the creek powered 13 furnaces and a hammer at Ulster Iron Works by the time it closed.

When Barclay died in 1851, a paper mill near Ulster Iron Works was taken over by the Sheffield Co., manufacturers of writing paper.

Penchant for government contracts

1875 map shows factory at tip, paper mill below (Saug. Public Library)

Ulster Iron Works records kept at the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor include this summary:

“Among the factors that contributed to the success of the Ulster Iron Works was the ability of the owners of the corporation to arrange for government contracts, especially contracts with the Navy, for providing iron products for use in rockets, ships, and other materials.”

Sylvester, who wrote the county history, details the manufacture of a chain with small links for the military. It passed a series of stress tests at the Navy yard in Washington. Lore has it that the chain was so strong the machine used to test its strength broke.

Brace in USS Monitor turret (Mariners' Museum and Park)


Officials believe a forward diagonal support brace in the USS Monitor turret was produced by Ulster Iron Works. 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 Mariners’ Museum and Park in Newport News, which houses the USS Monitor Center.

Will Hoffman, USS 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.”  

The New York Times details Ulster Iron Works (Courtesy of SHS)

Klinkenberg said she had previously heard of a connection. “We’ve always had in our literature that Ulster Iron Works had made … plates for the Monitor.” Block and Hartwell said they had been unaware of Saugerties’ contribution to the ironclad.

“But it makes sense, a small industry in which everyone knows everybody,” Hartwell said.

A multicultural workforce

The Clements Library also makes this notation about Ulster Iron Works:

“In civilian applications, Ulster was an important purveyor of iron products for railroads and shipping. Also contributing to the success of the works was the unusual diligence of the owners in importing foreign technologies for use at Ulster, and in soliciting the emigration of highly skilled workmen from Welsh and English foundries to fill their employment demands, particularly during the 1830s when skilled labor was at a premium. The owners appear to have been quite successful at using high wages as a lure to skilled workers during such periods, but they were equally ruthless at cutting wages when labor was abundant.”

Remains of wall on Cantine's Island (Courtesy of SHS)

The workforce of 300-400 was a panoply of diverse European ancestry: English, Welsh, Dutch, Italian and Scots, among others. For a few decades, business was generally good, even through ownership changes.

The Saugerties Public Library's holdings on this era includes a pamphlet, “Focus on Saugerties,” mentions the demise of the company after steel, which was stronger, began to surpass iron in demand.

According to local artist Michael Sullivan Smith, author of “A Brief History of Saugerties,” the iron works was replaced in 1887 by an early experimental mill producing paper pulp from wood fiber run by William Parsons. “This, too, was replaced by a crepe paper manufacturing operation in 1914, and then by storage sheds for clay used for the paper coating operations of the Martin Cantine Co.

“We are fortunate to have Civil War era photographs of the iron works when it was in operation or there would be nothing remaining, even archaeologically, of it besides the slag used to even out the rugged terrain of the village over the years,” Smith told the Picket. He is involved with the Friends of Historic Saugerties group.

Courtesy of I Like Saugeries Facebook page

An 1891 newspaper letter to the edit about the Ulster Iron Works’ demise is both funny and sad.

The second or third owner, William Mulligan, sold it in 1886 below value to William R. Sheffield. George R. Matthews, who was involved in the transaction, wrote in the Daily Post: “I have not said that William R. Sheffield made Mr. Mulligan drunk, but I do say that Mr. Mulligan was taken to Sheffield’s house sober, and he came away from there very drunk, and during that time the mill was sold.”

Within two years, the mill was closed and 300 people were without a job. Many had worked in the mills for as long as 50 years. “They were nearly all compelled to seek homes elsewhere,” wrote Matthews, describing the whole business as “a great wrong.”

Hospitality rules roost today

By the early to mid-20th century, other businesses were taking hold in Ulster County. IBM’s plants were mainstays in the region, but a major financial loss in 1992 led to numerous layoffs.

The Ulster County Office of Economic Development today touts a strategic location to population centers in the Northeast, an educated workforce, “four-season living” and aggressive business incentive programs.

Manufacturing accounts for only 8 percent of a diversified business sector. That’s well behind leisure and hospitality (16 percent), which reflects Saugerties, a town of about 20,000, being a tourist mecca.

Block, of the historical society, said Saugerties has a strong tie to the Hudson River.

“I think it is a way of life. The river in the past brought us industry and helped build the town. Now it is used recreationally,” she said. “It seems everything leads to the river.”

Opus 40 is made of bluestone (Courtesy of SHS)

Officials point to a host of attractions, among them: Opus 40, a large bluestone sculpture that artist Harvey Fite spent decades building; Seamon Park; Horses in the Sun, part of a large circuit that includes show jumping; a garlic festival; Esopus Bend Nature Preserve; and the Saugerties Lighthouse.

(National Archives)

The lighthouse can be reached by a 1/2-mile trail. “The other lighthouses in the mid-Hudson Valley remain isolated islands in the river, while ours is unique with land access,” said keeper Patrick Landewe.

The nonprofit Saugerties Lighthouse Conservancy restored the lighthouse and a bed and breakfast helps fund preservation efforts.

Hartwell, who grew up on Long Island and has lived in Saugerties for 15 years, touts the arts scene in a network of area cities. Years ago, he worked at the famous Woodstock Playhouse. Woodstock is about 12 miles west of Saugerties. “A lot of bohemians in the ‘20s would make hippies seem tame,” he said.

Jimmy Fallon at a local event (Saugerties Historical Society)

Fallon, of “The Tonight Show,” attended Saugerties High School and earlier this year donated $100,000 to the school. He has made numerous fond references to the town during his career.

In 2016, Fallon interviewed musician Robbie Robertson of the Band, and Saugerties got a mention. A home dubbed “Big Pink” in West Saugerties was the setting for Bob Dylan’s and the Band’s “Basement Tapes” sessions in 1967. Robertson said the house is where the group found its sound.

‘A rich, rich history’

Hartwell said the well-preserved main street, other venues and events have expanded Saugerties’ reach beyond weekenders. Retirees and others, many from New York City, have moved to this corner of Upstate New York.

Block, of the historical society, said her family has been in the area since 1680. She describes Saugerties as eclectic. “This community has a rich, rich history.”

Cantine's Island Cohousing (Courtesy of SHS)

Ulster Iron Works is long gone. Across Esopus Creek is the Diamond Mills Hotel. On the site of the iron and paper mill are The Mill at Saugerties, a housing complex, and Cantine’s Island Cohousing, which promotes a collective lifestyle.

Eighteen private households live on Cantine’s Island’s 10 acres, sharing management and work needed for the property’s upkeep.

“By design, folks must walk by their neighbor’s homes when they leave or return. There is a parking lot located outside of the green. In cohousing tradition, this arrangement encourages interaction with neighbors.”