Monday, September 1, 2014

Up Savage Mountain...a parade, a cemetery, a furnace and more

Mt. Savage, MD

Today we got our rental car (darn near a Prius, a Nissan Versa), checked out of the hotel in Cumberland and headed 7 miles up the mountain, through the narrows to Mt. Savage...where George Washington Ordner was born.

We rolled into the tightly packed, quaint little town a little after noon. Just in time to park, get a cold water and a Lime snow cone, find a grassy spot to sit and wait for the Labor Day parade to start. We sat across from the fire hall and watched the locals begin to line up the kids along the parade route with their plastic grocery bags to collect candy. I think there were as many people in the parade as there were watching. Looked about even.

Sitting there for the 30 minute parade we watched about 15 fire trucks go by, a dozen restored tractors, a marching band, a mini-locomotive with barrel cars and a caboose, several political candidates came shaking hands and even a hairdresser passing out business cards - great advertising!

After the parade, we met up with Dennis Lashley (he was the one driving the mini locomotive!), to learn more about Mt. Savage. We walked over to his jeep, hopped in and drove about a block and a half to the ruins of one of the blasting furnaces that was one of three in the 1850's. It was part of the Mt. Savage Iron Works, a foundry that took iron ore from the mountains and smelted it and rolled it into rails for the train tracks.
One of three blast furnaces of the Mt. Savage Iron Works.
Inside this enormous cavern would have been
a large boiler to blast air into the furnace to melt the iron ore.
As we walked to the furnace, Dennis said that this is precisely the ground that my grandfather would have walked while working here and probably the furnace he actually worked in every day when he was 16,17 and 18 years old. His occupation was listed as a "steel smelter" on his enlistment papers for the civil war. He likely worked directly with the blast furnaces, either skimming the slag from the top or poking the hole in the middle to allow the molten steel to pour out into the sand molds called "pigs". When cooled these iron bars would have been transported to the foundry where they were remelted, poured into sheets and sent to the "rolling mill". The iron sheets would have been rolled 5 times through the mills to bend them into the correct shape of the rails for the train tracks. This was the only rolling mill making rails in the US at the time. You can learn more about it on the Mt. Savage Historical Society website.

From the furnace, we drove another block across a small creek to where the single remaining "row house" exists. There were 22 of these houses lined up across the creek from the furnaces. This is where the workers lived. They were duplexes, three stories high. The lowest floor contained the kitchen, the middle and top floors the rooms where the workers slept. In the bachelor quarters (probably where my grandfather lived) they sometimes housed 8-10 young men! across the street near the creek, each house had gardens. At the end of the row, next to the first house there was a spring that was piped and every house carried their water from the pipe. The water was still flowing cold and clear today!

Row house that the iron workers lived in with their families.

After going through the row house, Dennis took us a few miles up the hill to where St. Ignatius Catholic Church once stood. It stood on the hillside above Mt. Savage and the view was spectacular! Behind the church is the cemetery, where George's father, John Charles Ordner, is buried. He died in 1858 when George was 15 years old. I have copies of the receipts in 1858 from John Ordner's estate papers that paid for his grave ($4) at St. Ignatius and the coffin, hearse and horses ($30) for his funeral. We tried to find his grave, but the gravestone probably doesn't exist anymore. There are very old ones there, the church was built in 1793, but many were so eroded that they were illegible. We'll check with the church records and see if they and the graves laid out so we can identify where it would be.

Broken, single grave with the year 1858. Couldn't read the name.
In the field below the cemetery was where the church stood.
I also wanted to see if we could pinpoint where their store existed in 1858. George's father and mother had come to Mt. Savage in 1841 to open a dry goods store on the National Road on the way to the west. In his probate papers I have the inventory of the contents of his store. Family stories I found, stated the store was located about a mile past the C&P R R Depot (used to stand near the baseball diamond in the park where we had parked to watch the parade) on the road to Frostburg. When we clocked the mile, it would likely have been between town and the church. Once again, beautiful views overlooking the town and the mountains. We will never know exactly where it stood, but it was fun to imagine the sights they saw. The store burned to the ground after John Ordner died, which is probably why George ended up working for the Iron Works at 16 years old.

Lots of history in this little town of 1200 residents. In George's day, there were 4,000 people living there. Plus Dennis said workers would have ridden the train from Cumberland every day too. Dennis then took us to a museum back in town where he showed us a lithograph from 1844 of the town. Fascinating to see how the town was laid out, no trees, lots of buildings. I can imagine the noise, the smoke and the smells from all the coal burning furnaces in town along with the railroads.

1844 lithograph of Mt. Savage - row houses are on the right,
three smoke stacks are the blast furnaces. St. Ignatius Church
is on top of the hill on the right above the houses.
Thank you Dennis for spending all afternoon with us showing off Mt. Savage!

We headed to Rocky Gap State Park where we will be camping the rest of this week. During the day we plan on heading out to do more research...tomorrow we are going to try and find more gravesites and hopefully see the inside of the Walsh house!

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