Tahawus: Story of a Ghost Town

Zooming through the bumpy dirt roads in what is now known as Upper Works, you will find the remnants of a once large titanium mining community known as Tahawus.


(DoNorth/Nelly Gomez)

Zooming through the bumpy dirt roads in what is now known as Upper Works, you will find the remnants of a once large titanium mining community known as Tahawus.

This ghost town is chillingly empty and filled with only the remains of people’s memories. The last 6 miles leading to the ghost town may sound like a short ride, but it takes longer than you would expect. Until, finally, the “Welcome to the Tahawus Tract” sign invites you in as you eerily drive by a row of abandoned houses. Travelers who enjoy discovering history and nature will find the trip to Tahawus worthwhile.

The restored boarded up yellow house named the MacNaughton Cottage is the only structure completely intact. Stepping inside the house is daunting with its pitch-black rooms. It is filled with scraps of wood and bricks, but probably the most interesting fact about the house is that Vice President Theodore Roosevelt once stayed there. During his stay, Roosevelt found out he had become the 26th president of the United States, on Sept. 15, 1901.

Past the house is the blast furnace, which has not been operating since the mid-1800s. Continuing down the road toward the start of the Tahawus Track are a few more houses: broken, caved in and filled with wild plants and piles of broken wood. Looking through the broken windows, the large open spaces and huge fireplaces makes it easy to visualize the men, women and children who called Tahawus “home.”

According to “Tahawus Memories 1941-1963: The Story of a Unique Adirondack Hometown” by Leonard A. Gereau, the town was first settled in the early 1800s by Elba Iron Works, but was later abandoned. In 1826, a prospecting party looking for sliver visited an iron ore deposit. From the party, John Mclntyre and his associates purchased the land between 1826 and 1827. By 1830s the Adirondack Iron and Steel Company was founded.

When two of the owners passed away and after the financial depression of 1857, the iron production ceased in 1858. It wasn’t until it was discovered in 1908 that titanium dioxide could be used in white paint pigment that the area regained some interest. In 1941, news spread that the Tahawus mines would open because of the demand for titanium by the National Lead Company.

Tahawus was able to flourish through the community organizations the people built. One organization that was established in the Tahawus community was the Tahawus Women’s Club, which began in 1942 for the advancement of local women. The club was influential to all of Tahawus community members. It sponsored annual Christmas parties for the children, organized the annual Garden Contest and opened the Tahawus Library. The organization also created a program called “Living in Foreign Countries” because the women came from diverse backgrounds — Cuba, Trinidad, England and Sweden.

Past the ghost town, at the end of the Upper Works road is the Upper Works Trail that leads to the Indian Pass and Lake Colden if you head north. Before you start the trail, there is a sign-in book where you can find the names of the hundreds of people who’ve visited Upper Works.

The location is a perfect place for hikers and nature photographers. The Indian Pass pathway is an easy to moderate hike that becomes difficult as you reach the top.

To preserve the beautiful land, the Open Space Conservancy purchased the property for visitors to see the Tahawus Tract. They created signs filled with facts about the remains of the town.

According to the Open Space Institute, about 6,800 acres of land are part of the “Forever Wild” Adirondack Forest Preserve — an area open to hikers, campers, kayakers and anglers. Anglers can spend a day fly-fishing on Upper and Lower Preston ponds, while kayakers can travel along Henderson’s serene shoreline or take a side trip to the headwaters of the Hudson River.

It is suggested by OSI that travelers set up camp along the Calamity Brook Trail while hiking to the base of Mount Marcy, the highest point in New York located right outside the Town of Keene. “The Marcy trail starts right near Lake Henderson and those trails have been there for 100 years or so,” Gereau says.

Visit Tahawus to relive its past and enjoy its present.

Issue 6: Winter/Spring 2016

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