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Historic markers added to Armstrong trails

Kehley Shank | For Trib Total Media
Ron Steffey of the Allegheny Valley Land Trust shows off a historic trail marker at Monticello Furnace along the Armstrong Trail on Wednesday, July 30, 2014.

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Two historic sites along the Rails to Trails in Armstrong County should get more attention this summer thanks to a trail marker program funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation.

The Monticello Iron Furnace in Rayburn and a former village called Gray's Eddy in Madison Township are the first on the trail to receive markers this year. They were installed the third week in July.

A grant from the Bill and Vera Boarts Family Trust of the Pittsburgh Foundation covered the $1,000 cost of each marker. The Allegheny Valley Land Trust Armstrong Conservancy and Armstrong Rails-to-Trails Association manage the trail.

At least four more historical markers could go in by the end of this year on the Clarion County section of trail, Rails-to-Trails President Alan Smith said.

“I think there will be interest in the signs. A lot of people will stop and look at them,” Smith said.

The markers are the first to identify long-forgotten sites like the blast furnace and old village. The groups put trail markers at Lock and Dams 8 and 9 in 2013.

“These other ones are more historical than the dams,” Smith said. The dams still exist. It's not like they've changed at all.”

As the trail has expanded, hikers and bikers noticed the remains of historic sites. But few knew what they were, according to Conservancy Director Ron Steffey.

The Monticello Iron Furnace is a good example. It's impossible to miss the 150-foot moss-covered stone wall on the trail, but knowing what it was is harder to discern. The wall and the towering slag heaps opposite it are all that remains of the furnace.

“People always wondered what it was when they went past,” Steffey said.

Built in 1859, the furnace employed 200 people to make iron. Everything but the wall was torn down in 1875 to make room for the Allegheny Valley Railroad.

It was uncovered several years ago as the trail's construction progressed. For years before that, the only passersby were trains.

“Hardly anyone knew it was back here,” Steffey said.

With some research and help from former landowner Conrail, the groups confirmed that wall was once part of the blast furnace operation.

The marker details the furnace's history and includes an illustration of what it may have looked like in its heyday.

The Gray's Eddy marker does the same.

That site, too, was a mystery for most, with few clues to show it was the home of a former village.

“I would say very few people would have known, unless you live right there,” Smith said.

A stone archway and stone walls are all that remain at the site between Templeton and Hooks Station. The village was founded in 1840 and included homes, a hotel and a warehouse.

Other markers that will go in this year will be at the abandoned village of Redbank, a coal tower, a tunnel and a train turntable in Clarion County.

“I'm really looking forward to getting the rest of the signs up,” Smith said.

Julie E. Martin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303.

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