When the topic is travel, it’s always fun to think about what to write about when.
One consideration that figures significantly in that decision is seasonality. For example, it’s nice to write about canoeing in the spring or summer, when folks are itching to get out and enjoy some warm weather. Similarly, it’s fun to pen prose about driving trips in the mountains during October and November when leaf color paints the mountains with a palette of fall color.
But now we’re in the middle of winter. What does one right about during wintertime?
“Aha!” I said to myself. “I’ll write about something warm, something like an historic old iron smelting furnace! That should be just the thing!”
And so (even though the temperature here was pushing 70 degrees yesterday) it’s still winter, at least in theory. So here we go with a story about lost towns, fiery furnaces and the oh-so-thermal smelting of iron.
The place? An historic old iron furnace, all that’s left of what used to be the town of Etowah, Ga.
The furnace was built in the 1830s by a fellow named Stroup and was the first iron smelting operation to be constructed in that part of the state. It was purchased by Mark Cooper, a politician, not long after Cooper lost the 1843 race for Georgia governor. Cooper and his business associates went on to construct a minor industrial complex at the site, a complex that included a nail factory, a flour mill, and even a rolling mill (completed in 1858). At its peak, the town of Etowah boasted a population of about 2,000.
In addition to the manufacturing plants, Cooper constructed a rail line running from the iron works site to the Etowah Station on the Western and Atlantic Railroad. The Yonah, an engine used on that rail line, would later figure in the Great Locomotive Chase in April 1862.
Because iron was a material of strategic and military importance, Sherman’s troops all but destroyed the town in May of 1864. And that, as they say, was pretty much that. Most of what was left of Etowah was mostly forgotten and eventually drowned when the Corps of Engineers closed the gates at Allatoona Dam in December of 1949 to create what we now know as Lake Allatoona.
So most of the town of Etowah has gone the way of most things. But the old furnace still stands tall. Located in a park area at the end of Old River Road and close by the foot of Allatoona Dam, it’s easy to access and definitely worth a visit when you’re in the area or if you need a break from driving through the area on I-75.
The furnace itself is fenced, so you’ll need to appreciate it from outside the boundary. I enjoy walking around the old stone furnace, imagining what it must have been like in its heyday as raging heat worked its magic and freed valuable iron from untold thousands of tons of ore.
After appreciating the furnace, check out the hiking opportunities at the site too — perhaps starting with the trail which begins right behind the old furnace. A short connector trail starts there and takes you to a moderate 2-mile loop trail that features, among other things, an impressive overlook. It’s a fine day hiking opportunity.
Afterward, back at the day use area, enjoy picnic facilities and a playground, too — and by all means don’t miss the chance to appreciate the spectacular view of Allatoona Dam.
Toward the end of your visit, you might find it illuminating to take a moment and think about red ore, glowing furnaces, and how some of that iron might have changed the world.
Then maybe you’ll wrap up the day with a walk along the river…because the sound of flowing water has great restorative powers.
The Cooper Furnace Day Use Area is located not far from I-75 via Red Top Mountain Road (exit 285), US41, and Old River Road. The actual address is 1052 Old River Road in Cartersville, and your GPS will prove helpful as you make your way through a couple of potentially confusing turns. Limited single-car parking is available. The old furnace ruins are located at the end of Old River near the foot of Allatoona Dam.