Ghost Town Trail

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Ghost Town Trail

What paranormal investigator can resist an official highway marker that points to a GHOST Town Trail?

Not us, even on a brisk-but-sunny, late-winter day. The Eliza (iron) Furnace and the trail are one of the newest additions to the nation's Rails-To-Trails network on abandoned rights of way. Ghost Town runs through southern Indiana and central Cambria counties using routes that linked once-bustling communities that are barely visible today. One convenient end of the route is in Nanty Glo - an "alive" town along Route 271, just north of Route 22.

At least one author has written stories (some of them ghost stories) about the route. But the hiker or cyclist will quickly find a more apt name for the peaceful setting is GONE-town . . . it requires curiosity and a sharp eye to see man's presence along many miles.

Walking it from Twin Rocks (near Nanty Glo) to Vintondale is a trip of three miles and 170 years. The towns mentioned above are diminished in population and economies. ) A point of interest - Vintondale was "owned" operated and created by FDR's uncle, Warren Delano.)

The Black Lick Creek valley setting is scenic and splendidly remote, but there are clues of a not-so bucolic time.

The trail cuts through rocks that show the "low coal" sought after by the company bosses of 1900. (Low coal is generally a seam less than 48" high; men and adolescents would toil on their bellies from dusk to dawn in such seams.) It's the softest mineral in most of the hills and thus:

100%-burnable fuel is right there in front of the hiker/biker, crumbling from the veins.

If only former denizens knew about it during an earlier period of economy in the valley. For down the trail, near the Indiana County line, sits Eliza Furnace. Just like Soap Fat Furnace on Jon McClintock's land at Point View, it was one of dozens of riverside, charcoal-stoked IRON fortresses that lit the skies in the canal era of the 1830"s.

As you might be able to read on the historic marker in the photo, these furnaces could not compete long with better ore and processes elsewhere. What the marker leaves off is very important. Virtual "plantations" formed around each furnace and an entire economy thrived, then died. . . . a victim of the law of diminishing returns. You see, the real reason Eliza and others stopped glowing was . . . . they ran out of wood to stoke the furnace! The furnaces became islands surrounded by thousands of acres of cleared, fuel less woodlands . . . and they suffocated and died. (Eliza is in the best condition of almost any furnace you'll see, but Mount Etna near Williamsburg has more original buildings.)

And so it was - 70 years after raping the hills of wood and ore, America's industrial machine revisited the mineral "well" in Black Valley - and elsewhere - to stoke the Industrial Age. This time, in search of coal.

There are some inadvertent reminders today that others were here before. One of the most curious sights is just past Vintondale near the middle of Black Lick Creek.

Three fountains of water spewed forth as nice as you'd want from the middle of the creek, just like Point Park, Pittsburgh. Or not.

Point Park uses mechanically forced water - this was an unintended natural relic from another age. Water under high pressure, most likely from an abandoned and flooded mine shaft, is forced up through breaks (or test borings) in such force that three fountains (of diminishing height) are putting on a free show just near Eliza Furnace.

Just up the Ghost Town Trail is another water-related rarity. You will see below two pipes - and if you look closely, you'll note they are made out of wood.

Wooden pipes (hollowed logs) are still not uncommon in almost any regional community that 1.) had enough wood, and 2.) built water infrastructure around the turn of the century.

This includes suburban Philadelphia, and the city, not just old mining towns like Vintondale.

The reason it's an oddity is this: Most wooden pipes not used were left in the ground to rot (or discarded) with newer metal/plastic lines run elsewhere. They're not often dug up for you to see (not that many people like thinking their water supply runs through something grody like that below.

Why did these work? The "pipes" were mainly built like kegs or casks - in some cases tongue-and- grooved - with iron bands around them to hold all in place. The pressure made them more leak-proof!



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Jon McClintock