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Agency Spotlight: Pine Grove Furnace State Park
Steeped in natural and historical features, the 696-acre Pine Grove Furnace State Park is at the northern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains, in an area known as South Mountain. Visitors enjoy many recreational opportunities, including two mountain lakes, Laurel Lake and Fuller Lake, hiking the Appalachian Trail, biking the rail trail, visiting the Appalachian Trail Museum and imagining when the park was a charcoal-fired iron furnace community. The park is surrounded by Michaux State Forest, which provides opportunities for exploring extensive public lands around South Mountain.

The beaches at Fuller and Laurel lakes are open from May 1 to September 30, 8 a.m. to sunset. In the summer season, a snack bar is available at each beach.

Boating is permitted only on the 25-acre Laurel Lake, which has a boat launch, 85 mooring spaces and a boat rental.

The common fish in Laurel Lake and the 1.7-acre Fuller Lake are pickerel, perch, bass and stocked trout. Mountain Creek, which flows through the park, has cold-water species like brown, brook and rainbow trout.

Over 75 acres are open to hunting, trapping and the training of dogs during established seasons. Common game species are deer, turkey, rabbit, pheasant and squirrel.

All park roads and service roads are open to bicycles unless posted otherwise. A two-mile bike trail connects the Furnace Stack Day Use Area with the Laurel Lake Day Use Area. Once the railroad bed of the South Mountain Railroad, the trail surface is crushed limestone or paved. Over half of this route is on Railroad Bed Road and shares the road with vehicles.

There are four miles of trails in the park:

  • Buck Ridge Trail: 6 miles, yellow blazes. This trail through Michaux State Forest connects Kings Gap Environmental Education Center and Pine Grove Furnace State Park. The trailhead and a small parking area are across from the park office.
  • Creek Trail: 0.5-mile, yellow blazes. Creek Trail begins at the amphitheater and winds past vernal ponds and a stand of white pine along Mountain Creek near the campground.
  • Mountain Creek: 1.4-miles, yellow blazes. This trail is a link between the rail trail to Fuller Lake and Icehouse Road to Laurel Lake. The trail affords the hiker an alternate path to Laurel Lake Day Use area other than the paved roadway. The trail meanders through forests and wetlands as it follows Mountain Creek downstream to Laurel Lake. Deer, heron, waterfowl and beaver can be seen along this trail.
  • Koppenhaver Trail: 1-mile, yellow blazes. Begin this scenic loop trail at the far end of the Fuller Ball Field. The footpath crosses Toms Run and passes through stands of mature pines and hemlocks.
  • Pole Steeple Trail: 0.75-mile, blue blazes. This Michaux State Forest trail contains some steep climbs. The entire park can be viewed from the Pole Steeple Overlook, which is a quartzite rock outcropping. The trail begins at the Pole Steeple parking lot, along the Railroad Bed Road by Laurel Lake, and proceeds up Piney Mountain to the rocky overlook. The steep grade and sheer drop may stress some individuals. Parents are advised to closely supervise children, especially when they are on the rocks and ledges.
  • Swamp Trail: 0.25-mile, yellow blazes. This short trail circles a small, forested swamp filled with interesting plants and animals. The trail begins and ends on the rail trail.

Running through the heart of the park is probably the most famous footpath in the world, the Appalachian Trail (A.T.). The 2,186-mile long trail traverses the Appalachian Mountains, stretching as a continuous footpath from Springer Mountain in northern Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in central Maine. The trail is marked with white blazes, which can be seen near the Pine Grove General Store, Appalachian Trail Museum, Fuller Day Use Area and on the rail trail.

Just south of the park is a trailhead on nearby state forest land that provides parking for vehicles and trailers, and access to many miles of trails on state forest lands. Maps of the trails are available at the park office.

Seventy tent and trailer sites are available from late March to mid-December. Each campsite has a picnic table and fire ring. A sanitary dump station is near the campground entrance. A seasonal camp store is one quarter-mile from the campground. Pets are permitted on designated campsites for a fee.

Winter activities are popular at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Nordic skiers enjoy the rail trail when snow conditions allow. Although no trails are specifically designated for cross-country skiing, numerous opportunities exist, especially during winters with heavy snowfalls, both within the park and on the surrounding state forest lands.

Just south of the park is a trailhead on nearby state forest land that provides parking for vehicles and trailers, and access to many miles of trails on state forest lands. Maps of the trails are available at the park office.

Ice fishing is permitted on Laurel Lake except in the maintained ice skating area. Ice thickness is not monitored except in the designated skating area.

And at Laurel Lake, a small area by the boat launch is maintained for ice-skating.

The Appalachian Trail Museum is in the Old Mill Building at 1120 Pine Grove Road (along PA 233) between the Pine Grove Furnace State Park office and the Pine Grove General Store. Museum exhibits and programs pay tribute to the pioneer trail-builders and hikers, including Earl Shaffer, Grandma Gatewood, Gene Espy, Ed Garvey, and their commitment to fitness and conservation. The Children’s Discovery Area provides fun, hands-on learning experiences. The museum is near the midpoint of the 2,186-mile Appalachian Trail, a National Scenic Trail that goes through 14 states from Georgia to Maine. The museum welcomes newcomers to the A.T. as well as veteran hikers and frequently offers an opportunity to meet current thru-hikers.

Located at 1212 Pine Grove Road, (along PA 233), the Ironmaster's Mansion, a renovated, historic, brick mansion is operated by the Central Pennsylvania Conservancy. In addition to serving as a hostel and providing dormitory-style lodging, the mansion is an educational facility with meeting rooms, and is a venue for wedding receptions, family reunions and special events.

The mansion was built in 1829 by the ironmaster Peter Ege and has an impressive history of guests and owners, including senators, federal department leaders, a millionaire and a university founder. The mansion is open on Sunday's between Memorial Day and Labor Day at 3 p.m. for tours.

In 1764, partners George Stevenson, Robert Thornburgh and John Arthur built an iron furnace along Mountain Creek. They named it Pine Grove Iron Works. It manufactured ten plate stoves, fireplace backs, iron kettles and possibly munitions during the American Revolution.

In 1782, Michael Ege, a rising Cumberland County iron mogul, purchased the iron works. Over the next 32 years, Ege grew his business until he was the sole owner of Pine Grove, Cumberland, Holly and Carlisle iron works.

Michael’s oldest son, Peter Ege, inherited Pine Grove Iron Works. In 1829, Peter built for his wife, Jane Arthur Ege, a red brick, English Tudor mansion. Jane died at Pine Grove in 1841 and was laid to rest in the Pine Grove Cemetery next to her son George Washington Ege, who had died in 1831.

Peter expanded his iron works in 1830, building Laurel Forge, which reheated and hammered cast iron from Pine Grove Furnace to produce wrought iron, a bendable metal that could be formed into many shapes.

The financial panic of 1837 bankrupted the Pine Grove Iron Works. At a sheriff sale the following year, Frederick Watts and his law partner Charles Bingham Penrose purchased Pine Grove to try their luck in the iron business. Watts went on to found Penn State University in 1855 and served in 1871 as Commissioner of Agriculture for President Grant. Penrose was a state senator and Solicitor of the Treasury for President Harrison.

In 1864, Jay Cooke and Company bought the iron works and formed South Mountain Iron Company, bringing in Jackson C. Fuller to be the furnace manager to run the daily operations, while the business affairs were taken care of in Philadelphia. The new company built South Mountain Railroad to bring raw materials to the furnace and move the iron products to market.

Jay Cooke is often called the “Financier of the Civil War.” He raised about $1.2 billion through the sale of federal treasury notes. Taking only a small commission on the sale of each bond made Cooke the wealthiest man in America by the end of the war. He then bought the Northern Pacific Railroad, which failed in the poor economy and depression after the war. Cooke was bankrupt and moved into his son-in-law’s home. The closing of the banking house of Jay Cooke and Company caused the financial panic of 1873.

The South Mountain Iron Works went up for sheriff sale, but no one bought it. In 1877, the railroad and iron works were sold separately. Through his friend Fuller, Cooke bought back the ironworks, forming the South Mountain Mining and Iron Company.

Future founding member of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association, John Birkinbine, became the furnace’s engineer. Concerned over Pennsylvania’s dwindling forest reserves and wanting to show that charcoal iron furnaces could be fired with alternative fuels like coke and coal, Birkinbine renovated the furnace in the winter of 1878. Charcoal remained the primary fuel of the furnace, but the furnace no longer had to shut down when charcoal supplies were exhausted. Birkinbine also increased the size of the furnace, which produced 6,000 net tons of cast iron in 1883, the peak year of production.

But, new technologies were quickly putting small iron producers out of business. Pine Grove Furnace went out of blast in 1895, ending 131 years of iron making on South Mountain.

In 1913, the 17,000-acre Pine Grove Ironworks was sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to be part of the new Forest Reserve system. Much of the land became Michaux State Forest, and part became Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Fuller Lake, an iron ore quarry, which had filled with groundwater when mining ceased, became a popular swimming area. Laurel Lake had supplied waterpower for Laurel Forge. Today it is popular for fishing and swimming.

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April 22, 2015

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Agency Spotlight

Pine Grove Furnace State Park

Pine Grove Furnace State Park

This park's location was once a substantial contributor to a new nation's iron industry. Read more...

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