MARIETTA, Pa. (WHTM) — In about a week, the leaves at Chickies Rock County Park should take on their fall yellows. The park offers a lot more than just beautiful views, though — it’s also home to some notable history.

The Musselman-Vesta Iron Furnace Center is the only building that remains of the Musselman-Vesta Furnace that operated from the 1860s to 1930. Now, it serves as a museum preserving the history of the furnace, as well as all seven furnaces built between Columbia and Marietta, says Lenny Droege, tour guide and building manager at the center.

Droege explains that so many iron furnaces sprouted up in this area because of the Pennsylvania Canal, which was built in the 1820s and used to run from Columbia to Pittsburgh. The canal was used to bring anthracite coal to this area, and the furnaces used coal for fuel.

Ultimately, the furnaces produced pig iron, which could then be refined into steel or other types of iron. To learn more about the history of the iron industry in the area, visit the Rivertownes PA USA website.

Human history

Remnants of the furnaces and the structures that surrounded them can still be seen along the trails of Chickies Rock County Park.

Henry Haldeman constructed the Chickies No. 1 furnace in 1845 before handing it off to his sons, Samuel and Edwin. The steps of the Haldeman Mansion lived in by Samuel and his wife, can be seen next to the paved hiking trail.

A little further off the path is a “salamander” — a big boulder that is “a chunk of iron that was leftover when they closed down the Chickies No. 1 furnace,” explains Droege.

Mary Ann Schlegel, park naturalist with the Lancaster County Department of Parks and Recreation, says that families used to live in this area right next to the operating furnace. A wall of the tenement building where they lived still stands. Next to that is a wall of the furnace manager’s house, which had previously been a tavern.

Droege says Chickies Rock is “where history meets nature,” noting how nature is reclaiming the furnace structures. The best time to see the historical structures at the park is during the winter when there’s less foliage to block the views, says Droege.

Natural features and history

Chickies Rock is also home to some incredible geological sites. Visitors may be familiar with the towering rock formations in the area, but Schlegel explains that scientists from all over come to study the rocks here.

Millions of years ago, the place that is now Chickies Rock County Park used to be a beach, says Schlegel. Animals that are believed to have been worms burrowed in the beach sand and left behind trace fossils.

These trace fossils are very important, says Schlegel, because very few fossils exist from that time period of about 530 million years ago.

Chickies Rock is actually the type locality for these fossils, which means it’s “where everybody in the world compares [this type of trace fossil] to what was found first here and identified here,” says Schlegel.

For those hoping to see some fall foliage while they hike, Schlegel says most of the trees in this area will turn yellow. They haven’t quite changed color yet, but Schlegel and Droege expect they should in the next week.

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