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Celebrating with a Bang: West Point Foundry Preserve Turns 25

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It’s amazing the stories a woodsy little ravine can tell. Over the centuries, the one within West Point Foundry Preserve in Cold Spring has been an Indigenous campsite, an industrial dynamo, a dumping ground and junkyard, a planned hotel, and today a spectacular “outdoor museum.” In addition to providing a glimpse into the changing ways people rely on a particular landscape over time, the preserve celebrates nature’s remarkable ability to renew itself, often against steep odds.  

West Point Foundry Preserve. (Video: Tyler Blodgett / Scenic Hudson)

It also celebrates history’s survival against comparably stiff odds. Of the four ironworks established after the War of 1812 to furnish the nation with cannons and ammunition, three lay beneath parking lots or buildings. Only the archaeological integrity of West Point Foundry remains intact. Aboveground building ruins combined with subterranean artifacts — from the casting pits where iron was poured into molds to the brick-lined channels that furnished waterpower — are available to inform today’s visitors and advance future study of America’s Industrial Revolution.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that on Nov. 13, 2021 — a day after the 25th anniversary of Scenic Hudson’s acquisition of the ravine, which put the kibosh on the proposed hotel complex — people will gather in front of the foundry’s 1865 office building to celebrate designation of the West Point Foundry Archeological Site as a National Historic Landmark. It is the federal government’s highest level of recognition for a site’s importance to understanding America’s heritage.

Students in Michigan Tech’s Industrial Archaeology Program unearth history at the preserve. (Photo: Snowbound)

What made West Point Foundry so special? From the moment it began operations in 1818 until it closed in 1911, it was a leader in supplying iron products that fueled the nation’s growth, including the country’s first locomotives and iron-hulled ships. It supplied the mains and pipes for municipal water systems, including New York City’s. (When a water main breaks in Manhattan today, more often than not it came from West Point Foundry a century ago.)

It crafted complex machinery critical for the sugar and cotton industries. And it supplied thousands of cannons and millions of shells to the U.S. Army and Navy during the Civil War. To learn more about its operations and output, read this excellent booklet created when the site was recognized as a National Mechanical Engineering Landmark in 2019 or enjoy this audio tour of the preserve’s historic features.

Recently, volunteers created a pollinator garden with native plantings at the preserve. (Photo: Jeff Mertz / Scenic Hudson)

The other big feature that makes West Point Foundry Preserve stand out: The many traces of the people who occupied this land, and the great contributions made by others to safeguard and share these traces, and to conserve the property’s natural beauty:

  • Munsee, Wappinger, and Mohican peoples who camped on its heights and foundry laborers — 1,500 people during its height of operations in the mid-19th century.
  • Workers engaged in removing toxic chemicals from Foundry Cove in the early 1990s, when the land at the future preserve became a staging area for one of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s first Superfund projects.
  • Hundreds of volunteers — local residents, members of scout and service groups, inmates at a nearby correctional facility — who helped remove tons of trash dumped into the ravine after the foundry closed.
  • Teachers and students in Michigan Technological University’s Industrial Archaeology Program. Working in the preserve each summer from 2000 to 2008 under Scenic Hudson’s sponsorship, they made significant discoveries about foundry operations and the lives of those who kept it running.
  • The team who envisioned, designed, and constructed the preserve’s outdoor museum. Click here for an interview with lead landscape architect Kim Mathews.
  • Donors who generously supported construction of the “outdoor museum.”
  • And last but not least, volunteers today who help Scenic Hudson maintain the preserve, making sure it remains inviting for people and wildlife. Last month, they came together to replace invasive plants with native species that will provide food and shelter for birds, insects, and mammals.

Thanks to all, the tree-shaded ravine at West Point Foundry Preserve will forever remain steeped in the past while being assured of a very bright future. 

The public is invited to attend the Nov. 13 ceremony celebrating the site’s designation as a National Historic Landmark. It will take place from 10 a.m. to noon, and will include a guided tour. Masks will be required regardless of vaccination status.

Reed Sparling is a staff writer and historian at Scenic Hudson. He is the former editor of Hudson Valley Magazine, and currently co-edits the Hudson River Valley Review, a scholarly journal published by the Hudson River Valley Institute at Marist College.

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Hudson Valley Viewfinder is a collaborative, community digital magazine sharing what inspires us about the beautiful Hudson Valley. We publish original stories and multimedia content about all things sustainable in the region along the Hudson River — including agriculture, science, wildlife, outdoor recreation, green transportation, environmental justice, and more.

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Our mission is to immerse you in the storied history, fresh happenings, and coming solutions for making the Hudson Valley greener and more livable long-term.

Viewfinder is published by Scenic Hudson, the celebrated nonprofit credited with launching the modern grassroots environmental movement in 1963. With over 25,000 passionate supporters, Scenic Hudson’s mission is to sustain and enhance the Hudson Valley’s inspirational beauty and health for generations to come. Viewfinder supports that mission, because the better people understand what makes this place special, the more they will invest in protecting it. 

Keep up with the latest stories by subscribing to Scenic Hudson’s monthly digital newsletter, and connect with us on social via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Threads.

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

Lynn Freehill-Maye
Managing Editor
editorial@scenichudson.org 

Riley Johndonnell
Director Creative Strategies & Communications
rjohndonnell@scenichudson.org

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We’re always looking for ideas around our main topic areas of Climate Solutions, Land + Air + Water, Plants + Animals, History + Culture, Outdoors, and Community.
  • Journalists and writers who have deep familiarity with New York and the Hudson Valley, we’d love to have you contribute! Please do introduce yourself by email, sharing writing samples and any relevant pitches you may have.
  • Photographers and videographers, we’d love to hear from you and see what you do. Please send along a portfolio with images or footage that showcases your best and/or most relevant work, with an emphasis on anything captured outdoors. 
  • Illustrators, we commission artwork on the regular. Drop us a note with some of the beauty you’ve created.
  • Media Partners & Social Media Influencers, we welcome opportunities to team up on series and campaigns. Reach out with any background about yourselves and your ideas.
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  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
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  • We love to collaborate with media outlets, especially on episodic series (like these) of interest to our shared audiences. Past collaborations have included radio interviews, panel discussions and other events, original artwork, and e-blasts, all furthering the campaign’s excitement and reach. 
  • We also love to partner with other organizations whose missions align with Scenic Hudson’s. Feel free to reach out with some background on your group and its work.
  • Writers, photographers, and creatives, if you have an idea for a series or content campaign that might be a good fit, drop us a line!

Businesses, please note that as a nonprofit, Scenic Hudson is restricted from advertising or promoting for-profit companies, through Viewfinder or other outlets. While we understand content managers may wish to alert us to your company’s role in a relevant topic, we are unable to add links to businesses to our stories.

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