In the early years of the United States of America, stone furnaces were built for the smelting of metal to form it into different shapes. The stone furnaces were built near the sources of key ingredients like iron ore, limestone, and charcoal which was made from trees in hardwood forests. One of these furnaces was Pine Grove Furnace in the southern central region of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. The Pine Grove Furnace was used to make iron, and the site was a bustling place. Iron ore was brought to the furnace where it was melted and formed, and then it was transported to different locations. Through the years, new technologies and safer furnaces were built making furnaces like these obsolete. In 1895, the fires in the Pine Grove Furnace stopped burning. The furnace was abandoned, and it was left to ruin and to be reclaimed by nature through the years. The Pine Grove Furnace was gone, but it was not forgotten as it was made into a state park. Today, you can see the old furnace in its original location. You can also see the Ironmaster’s Mansion where the ironmaster had his residence, the Paymaster’s Cabin, the old stable which now houses the park general store, the old mill which now houses the Appalachian Trail Museum, and you can see Fuller Lake which is where the iron ore was mined from numerous ore pits and was filled naturally with water when the mining of the pits ended. Unlike the days of operation, Pine Grove State Park is a tranquil place where the sounds of loud clanging and pounding have been taken over by peace and tranquility. Pine Grove Furnace State Park is a place that history and nature unite in great harmony.
Some of you are saying, “This is nice. The old furnace was preserved and made into a park. It would be great to walk around. However, there is one big problem. There are no railroads here, there are no railroads anywhere near here, and this place has absolutely nothing to do with the railroad. Therefore, I will not be ironing out any plans to visit this place.”
You have a point. The park has no railroads. You are wrong about the fact that this place has nothing to do with the railroad.
When operations began in 1764, there was no railroad. The iron was transported by the old horse and buggy system. When the railroad began making its way across North America, those rails made their way to the Pine Grove Furnace, and the railroad replaced the horse and buggy to transport the iron. The grassy area next to the furnace was a small rail yard where cars were loaded. The South Mountain Railroad was constructed from 1868 to 1869. In 1870 the railroad connected the furnace with the Cumberland Valley Railroad at a junction east of Carlisle. The South Mountain Railroad was combined with other local railroads to become the Hunters Run and Slate Belt Railroad. The Hunters Run and Slate Belt Railroad was late merged into another railroad. In 1907 after the brickyard was shutdown, sections of railroad were removed from what is now the state park, but a rail line was still connected to Carlisle, and a tourist line brought tourists to the park. This continued into the 1950’s when rail service to what would become Pine Grove State Park came to an end.
Today, you can hike on some of the trails that were once the railroad bed of the railroad that served the furnace, and a few of the roads were built on the old railroad beds. If you are fortunate, you may find an old railroad tie or find a rail spike used to hold the rails on the ties. There is a road called ‘Old Railroad Bed Road’ which runs along the southeast side of the park on the south side of Laurel Lake which was built along the original railroad bed. The road is drivable, but it is a narrow dead-end road which may be difficult for large vehicles (large sport utility vehicles and buses) to turn around. While on this road, you will pass by a spring. It is said that locomotives may had made a stop here to take on water.
Pine Grove State Park is a Pennsylvania State Park with historical ruins of the furnace and other structures. It is near the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail which passes through the park, and it is the home of the Appalachian Trail Museum. Although it is in the confines of the state park, it is owned at operated by the Appalachian Trail Museum Society, an all-volunteer organization. The museum is open between April and October from 9:00am to 4:00pm from Thursday to Sunday. Admission is free, but they gladly accept donations to help keep the museum operational for many years to come. You can learn more about the museum, the history of the museum and foundation, and their many affiliates at https://www.atmuseum.org/.
The Ironmaster’s Mansion is also within the confines of the state park. It has tours and is also open for lodging. It is owned by the state park, but it is managed by a non-profit organization that also owns the Appalachian Trail Museum which is located at the halfway point on the Appalachian Trail, a trail that runs through the Appalachian Mountain Range between the U.S. state of Maine and the state of Georgia. The museum is between the Ironmaster’s Mansion and the Visitor Center.
Along with the museum, the Pine Grove State Park Visitor Center also houses a museum that tells the history of the park. Along with the museum, furnace ruins, and old structures, there are also picnic tables, hiking trails, camping (tent, RV, and groups), swimming, and boating, and there is also a general store. The park is open year-round from sunrise to sunset. You can learn more about the park and make campground reservations and how to reserve the paymaster’s cabin at https://www.dcnr.pa.gov/StateParks/FindAPark/PineGroveFurnaceStatePark/Pages/default.aspx.
If you would like a detail history of the railroad history of Pine Grove Furnace State Park, you can purchase the book Railroads to Pine Grove Furnace by Randy Watts from the park gift shop.
The next time you hear about Pine Grove Furnace State Park, do not think about a place of an old furnace or a simple park. Think of it as a tranquil place that was once connected to the mighty sounds of the railroad.