The West Point Foundry: Unearthing the Past, Forging a Future
March 30 – December 14, 2008
The full arc of American industrial history, from thriving manufacturing to malign neglect to rediscovery and restitution is on display at The West Point Foundry: Unearthing the Past, Forging a Future, which tells the story of two centuries of industrial innovation and ecological destruction and renewal at West Point Foundry Preserve. Visitors can take in the exhibition of photographs, schematics, artifacts and interactive displays as well as PCHS’s permanent collection of historical materials from the West Point Foundry. They can then tour the actual foundry site, now owned by environmental group Scenic Hudson and the subject of a multi-year industrial archeological exploration by the Industrial Archaeology Program at Michigan Technological University. (View the West Point Foundry Preserve Trail Map or download the pdf).
The West Point Foundry opened in 1818 and was a pacesetter in America’s Industrial Revolution. Best known for supplying the United States government with ordnance, including the Parrott gun—cannon whose accuracy turned the tide of the Civil War — it also produced some of the nation’s first steam engines, locomotives and ironclad ships. During its heyday, the foundry employed between 500 and 1,500 furnace men, blacksmiths, carpenters, office and machine shop workers, and others. It achieved national, even worldwide renown. President Abraham Lincoln visited in 1862. Jules Verne immortalized the foundry in his 1865 novel, From the Earth to the Moon.
After operations ceased in 1911, the site fell into disuse, the foundry buildings gradually were demolished, and the forest reclaimed the site, which also became a dumping ground and victim of industrial contamination. The worst pollution occurred at Foundry Cove, where from the 1950s through the 1970s, a battery factory spewed up to 200,000 gallons of nickel and cadmium into the water daily. The Environmental Protection Agency mounted a $100 million cleanup and restoration under the Superfund law in the 1990s.
The property, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, was acquired by Scenic Hudson, a pioneer in environmental preservation and restoration long active in the Hudson River Valley, in 1996. Scenic Hudson has sponsored research at the site by faculty and students from Michigan Technological University’s Industrial Archaeology Program since 2001.
Organized and funded by Scenic Hudson and Michigan Tech as well as PCHS, the exhibition uses Michigan Tech’s discoveries to explore the three stages of the history of the foundry site. Displays on three original buildings highlight major aspects of the foundry’s operations and its workers’ lives: the boring mill, casting shop, and East Bank House. Photographs and other materials illustrate the neglect and contamination of the site during much of the 20th century and its renovation and renewal since 1992. Scenic Hudson’s plans for a $3.5-million "outdoor museum" that explains the foundry’s groundbreaking contribution to American industry as well as the land’s ecological rebirth are also on view.
Also within easy walking distance in Cold Spring is the 1834 Chapel of Our Lady Restoration, built originally for the foundry workers and the first Catholic chapel north of New York City, and the historic 19th Century Main Street, featuring numerous opportunities for shopping, antiquing and dining.
Additional funding for the exhibition, which continues through December 14, was provided by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects, Kearney Realty Group and Stearns & Wheler, LLC, environmental engineers. Storage for the West Point Foundry Collection is provided by the Village of Cold Spring.
For more information, please visit scenichudson.org/whatyoucando/visitourparks/westpointfoundrypreserve and westpointfoundry.org.
Please visit our Archive of Exhibitions.