Dusting off the Memories of an old company town
Lyon Mountain’s mine was one of the deepest in North America, and its iron ore some of the purest. Chateaugay Ore and Iron Company was one of the biggest employers in Clinton County during World War II. But the hamlet bears little resemblance these days to the densely populated and vibrant place it once was after the mine closed.
Margo Kourofsky spent her childhood years in Lyon Mountain. Her father, Howard Wood, worked as a miner until he lost his job in 1967. The family uprooted and moved to New Hampshire. Kourofsky left the mountain for 41 years and came back to a completely changed area.
“When I graduated, my father, who worked in the mines, lost his job but chose to keep the family in the homestead for that year so I could finish and leave for college,” says Kourofsky. “So when I left for college, I left the town. My family, two younger sisters, siblings and my mom and dad moved to New Hampshire, and even when I went home for vacations, it wasn’t home to Lyon Mountain.”
When Kourofsky retired from her job as a speech teacher in 2006, she and her husband, Allen, began working for the Lyon Mountain Mining and Railroad Museum. As someone who loves exploring the past and doing research, Kourofsky found immense joy in her job. She helped interview miners, old townspeople, create historical displays and purchased items to sell.
The museum collaborates with local groups like the prison’s furniture shop, the Adirondack Coast Cultural Alliance and their local print shop in Chateaugay, “Write One,” to make it all happen. “So, it was a real community effort,” says Kourofsky. “And many people, not only the people who worked in the mines and their children, many people in the surrounding area and that village are very proud of that museum.”
The joy of the job was more than just about learning history to Kourofsky. To her, this also meant learning about her dad’s 30 years experience of being a miner. All she knew of was an accident he endured.
“He was in a horrible accident when he was in his young twenties, and his legs were badly broken,” says Kourofsky. “He was gone from home to New York City to have those repaired with metal poles and screws and putting them back together.”
The hamlet of Lyon Mountain struggled after the mine, school and prison closed. Two churches, the American Legion, the museum and a gas station are all that is left now. Businesses in the area struggled to stay open before the pandemic; Now it is even harder without traffic flow from Canada and people coming to lakes surrounding Lyon for vacations.
“Doesn’t look like the Legion will be able to stay open,” says Kourofsky. “The amount of money that it’s going to cost to heat the Legion during the winter is more than what they’re making.” The Legion is where townspeople socialize, which makes the potential closure that much more detrimental to the community. She also thinks the museum may not have enough funds to open again once the pandemic is over. “And the gas station has no management,” she adds.
Kourofsky spoke of a time when everyone in the town knew each other, but since the mine closed, a lot of people, like her family, moved out of town to find work and did not return to the area, especially the younger generations. “It’s always sad when the younger generations of the original families don’t stay,” she says. “And all of the newer families coming into town are not from there and aren’t involved in the community spirit.”
Still, the sense of community here still exists and people remain supportive of neighbors that they know. “You’ll find that anytime there’s fundraising or if there’s a death, all the women and all the families contribute to the reception and they’re always there for fundraising of one kind or another,” says Kourofsky.
Her love for the tranquil mountain air of the hamlet never ceased. She loved having the woods as her backyard, where she could walk out and pick a case of nuts or watch her kids pick apples and go hiking.
“The whole life in Lyon Mountain was a natural, old-fashioned kind of life that way,” says Kourofsky.
One of Kourofsky’s favorite memories of Lyon Mountain is hiking up the mountain when the leaves start to change. “Some years, the group got bigger and bigger,” she says. “So that was very special to our family.”
Lyon Mountain is certainly not how it used to be, but its history will live on in the minds of Margo Kourofsky and many others who had the chance to see Lyon Mountain during the glory days of mining.
Story by Haily Dang
Photos by Sierra McGivney