Red Top Mountain remembers mining history
by Jason Lowrey
Mar 18, 2012 | 1621 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
David Little, a volunteer for the Etowah Hills of Iron event at Red Top Mountain State Park, clears the viewing chamber of Mini-Cooper, a 12th-scale model of the Cooper Furnace. 
JASON LOWREY/The Daily Tribune News
David Little, a volunteer for the Etowah Hills of Iron event at Red Top Mountain State Park, clears the viewing chamber of Mini-Cooper, a 12th-scale model of the Cooper Furnace. JASON LOWREY/The Daily Tribune News
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The Red Top Mountain State Park celebrated Saturday what gave the mountain its name and spawned a local industry -- iron. The color comes from the iron ore in the soil rusting from its constant exposure to weather, while before the Civil War local mining companies dug into the mountainside to extract the iron. They used steam shovels to carve out the mountainside, creating deep trenches called an open cut mine that followed the veins of iron running through the mountain.

Marcus Toft, a State Park employee, led a short walking tour through one of the open cut mines. Part of the Iron Hill walking trail, the mine is 60 feet deep throughout most of its length and likely 70 feet deep at its lowest point. The sides of the mine have slowly eroded over time, turning sheer cliffs into long slopes and its once flat floor into a series of small rolling hills. Toft described how the iron dug out of the mountain was processed on site before being loaded onto railcars and shipped to foundries in the North and in Alabama. The railcars used a track that split off from the main line and ran across land that Allatoona Lake now covers.

"We try and make history come alive, even though that sounds corny," Toft said, when talking about the mine. "I think its important, this especially, because this is something real that happened at the park that people don't know about anymore." He continued, mentioning remains from other parts of Etowah, such as a section of railroad track and a house chimney that still stands and how hikers might see them when going through the park. "They're doing something here for fun, but they can still kind of get a little like a history lesson by keeping their eyes open and relating it to something."

David Little, a volunteer who worked at the blacksmith shop, also stressed how Red Top's iron mining history was relevant to the present. "This is the direct step between the Bronze Age and PlayStation 2s," he said, describing the importance of iron. "This is right in between."

While running Mini-Cooper --the park's 12th-scale model of the Cooper furnace -- Little explained how the Red Top mines and furnaces did not produce cannonballs, as is commonly thought, but rather consumer products such as skillets. "The big furnaces made a lot of product fairly quickly without a lot of delicate tweaking. Mass production."

Besides the mine hike and blacksmith shop, Red Top State Park also offered the opportunity for visitors to buy scratch block molds for $7 a piece for an Iron Pour. These molds are made of sand and visitors could carve their own designs into them. At 6 p.m. the park fired up its cupola furnace, Maryanne, melting iron ore to pour into these molds, creating trivets. The volunteers running the event were members of Friends of Red Top Mountain, and all the proceeds went toward the park and its programming.

While Hills of Iron is an annual event, the Friends of Red Top Mountain will offer another Iron Pour May 5.