West Point Foundry Sites In Cold Spring
Located in Cold Spring just off Route 9D lies a piece of America’s industrial history: the ruins of the West Point Foundry. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the 87-acre site is nestled in a wooded ravine and contains the ruins of the boring mill, blast furnace, and casting house, which sit beneath trees whose ancestors once fueled the fires that forged America’s entrance in the Industrial Revolution. Now owned by the Scenic Hudson Land Trust, the West Point Foundry Preserve is open to the public and offers quiet woodland trails and scenic views of Foundry Brook Marsh. The interpretation of the site is being guided by ongoing research carried out by Michigan Technological University’s industrial archaeology program.
Not far from the preserve is the Putnam County Historical Society & Foundry School Museum, housed in the Foundry School building itself. The society was founded in 1906 by leading citizens of Cold Spring and surrounding communities; today, it operates the museum with a board of trustees, a full-time staff of four, and the help of volunteers. Acting as ambassadors for history, the historical society promotes the educational programs of the museum, holding several communitywide events each year to raise awareness of Putnam County’s rich history. Thanks to the efforts of the Putnam County Historical Society, Putnam County has been designated as one of the first eight Preserve America Communities in the United States, honored for it’s commitment to protecting it’s heritage.
Many of the artifacts filling the museum trace their roots back to 1817, when President James Madison established the West Point Foundry as one of four factories nationwide to manufacture heavy artillery. The Valley location provided the foundry with the resources needed to make it one of America’s first vertically integrated industries: All of the raw materials—including iron ore, charcoal to fuel the furnaces, and timber to build ships to transport the finished goods—were available locally. Originally owned by Gouveneur Kemble, the foundry employed up to 1,000 workers. Housing was built for the employees and their families, mostly Irish immigrants. Kemble also constructed for his workers the first Catholic Church in the Hudson Valley. Restored, the small Greek Revival building sits majestically on a bluff above the Hudson.
The foundry, which remained in operation until 1884, was most famous for the production of the Parrott Gun. Developed by foundry superintendent Robert
2 PICTURES; Cannon and other artifacts manufactured at the West Point Foundry and Foundry tools on display at the Foundry School Museum
Parrott, the rifled gun—the first highly accurate cannon—was mass-produced during the Civil War and was critical to the Union victory. In addition to munitions, the foundry produced the nation’s first steam engines (including the locomotive Experiment, which set a speed record of 80 miles per hour in 1832), the first iron ship (a cutter named The Spencer), as well as machinery for sugar mills in the Caribbean and hundreds of miles of cast-iron piping for the New York City water system.
Today, the Putnam County Historical Society’s museum contains artifacts from the foundry, samples of goods produced there (including projectiles and a bench made for Washington Irving), and John Ferguson Weir’s famous 1866 painting of the works, The Gun Foundry. (A companion painting, Forging the Shaft, is in the Metropolitan Museum.) Another room in the museum was the 19th-century schoolroom used by foundry apprentices and the children of foundry employees.
The museum’s library is also an important resource, housing genealogical records and the fruits of an ongoing oral history program that is seeking to capture local stories told and retold from generation to generation. Exhibition space is available for temporary exhibits, either of artifacts owned by the museum that are not normally on display or that are on loan. The museum is currently planning a costume exhibit that will allow for the care and conservation of its important and extensive collection of historic apparel.
—Steven Foceri, Hudson River Valley Institute
The author gratefully acknowledges the insight and information provided by Shannon Risk, Executive Director, Putnam County Historical Society and Foundry School Museum.
The Putnam County Historical Society & Foundry School Museum, at 63 Chestnut Street in Cold Spring, is open Tuesday-Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. from March 9 through December 16. For more information, call 845-265-4010 or log onto www.pchs-fsm.org . Scenic Hudson’s West Point Foundry Preserve is open dawn to dusk. Additional information about it may be found at www.scenichudson.org/land_pres/wpfp_research.htm. For more information about ScenicHudson’s efforts to protect the landscape of the Hudson River Valley, go to scenichudson.org.