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Danger in the coal pit

A collier more than a century ago tamped down a charcoal mound to lessen air flow inside the outdoor hearth. Photo contributed

The upper Housatonic River valley brims with defunct ore mines, abandoned blast furnaces, forgotten lime kilns and, scattered hither and beyond on our hillsides, the remains of several thousand outdoor charcoal hearths, recognizable to the keen eye for their round, raised earthen platforms and dearth of tree growth (excepting birch, which doesn’t mind the pyrolitic acid in the soil). If you find one hearth, you’ll find more nearby. 

Charcoal was labor intensive and one of the most expensive aspects of iron processing here.

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