HIGHLIGHTS: Explore Connecticut's most extensive ruins of a blast furnace, roasting ovens and quarries at Mine Hill Preserve, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Walk along an elevated foot path that was once used to haul raw ore from the mines to the smelting furnaces. Along the way, you will pass mine shafts, tunnels and quarries that provided granite used in the construction of New York's Brooklyn Bridge and Grand Central Terminal.
Directions: Mine Hill Preserve is located off Rte. 67, 2.3 miles north of Roxbury Town Hall. Crossing the Shepaug River, turn right onto Mine Hill Road, and proceed past the lumber yard. Take the dirt road to the signed parking area on the right.
Walking Time: Level: Easy to Moderate.
Distance: 3.5 miles.
TRAIL DIRECTIONS: The Main Loop of this trail is marked with a blue blaze. A 3/4 mile nature loop is blazed in yellow and is off the Main Trail. This area closes at sunset; if there are two hours or less of daylight, do not continue past the vertical shaft.
The Main loop begins at the Parking area. Follow a narrow forest path into the woods, and proceed over the footbridge. Just beyond the information board turn left following the blue blazes to Donkey Trail, an easy one mile stretch.
In a few minutes you will pass the back of two enormous field stone roasting ovens on the right. The first mining operations began here in the middle of the 18th century, inspired by the hope of finding silver. Operations were implemented in 1751 and again in 1764. Under a succession of owners there was some construction and mining activity, culminating in 1865 with the purchase of the property by the Shepaug Spathic Iron & Steel Company. Between 1865 and 1868, the firm greatly expanded the mine tunnels; constructed a railbed to convey the ore and dammed Mineral Spring Brook.
The granite quarries of Mine Hill provided building material for two ore roasters, a blast furnace, a steel puddling furnace, and a rolling mill. By the late 1870's the mine ceased to operate due to internal financial problems and increased competition from large pit furnaces newly opened in Minnesota and Pittsburgh.
Stroll along Donkey Trail which is elevated 5 feet or so above the ground giving you a birds eye view of the forest. The trail got its' name because donkeys would haul carts filled with ore from the mines to the furnaces along iron rails that once lined this path. The rails were removed for scrap during World War II.
Soon, you will come to a small pond that was created in the mid.- 19th century, by damming Mineral Brook to create a reliable water supply for the ironworks. Underground pipes connected the pond to at least three hydrants placed at strategic points throughout the complex.
Here, you can take an optional 3/4 mile walk on the yellow blazed Nature Trail Loop.
Ten minutes beyond the second tunnel, the elevated trail comes to an end. Continue following the blue blazed trail past old foundations and a series of four mine shafts, easily identified by their protective cage coverings. At the third shaft, turn right and continue on the blue trail, walk about 500 feet, and take your first left, following the blue blazes back into the woods to a boulder strewn path, carpeted by mosses and lichens.
Look for the fourth mine shaft on the left as the trail begins to narrow into a rugged footpath that winds through a hardwood forest dominated by hemlocks and mountain laurel to Quarry Bridge.
Before crossing the bridge take time to explore the abandoned granite quarry on the left. This is one of eight light gray granite quarries located throughout Mine Hill. The quarries of Mine Hill began to operate in 1850 and were worked at various times until 1961. If you look carefully, at the blocks strewn on the side of the trail, you will see drill cores where the stone was split against the grain. Granite from the quarries of Mine Hill Preserve were used in construction of New York's Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Terminal and East River Drive.
At Quarry Bridge, turn right onto a descending blue blazed forest path that follows Mineral Spring Brook. At the intersection in the trail (10 minutes from Quarry Bridge) turn left; follow the blue blazes through the gate and continue walking along a dirt road punctuated with corn fields on the left and gray granite ledges on the right.
To take a short side trip to the Preserve's largest Quarry proceed 1500 ft beyond the left turn. The Quarry with hundreds of granite blocks piled at its base, is on the right. Retrace your steps and follow the blue blazes to the dirt road. At the junction of the dirt road and the foot path take a sharp right, following the blue blazes, to the furnace site.
Take some time to explore these fascinating ruins, the most extensive and the best preserved in the state.
The 19th century iron operation at Mine Hill began with the transportation of ore from the mines down Donkey Trail to the roasting ovens. Here, the ore was heated then sorted to remove impurities. Next, the ore was mixed with charcoal and marble and loaded into the blast furnace to be smelted. The chimney located southeast of the blast furnace was part of the blowing engine that provided the blast. The molten ore was removed from the furnace by being allowed to run into channels dug into the sand in front of the blast furnace. Here the ore cooled and formed iron bars known as "pigs". The remaining impurities in the ore was drawn off as slag.
As you walk around the blast furnace and climb the four terraces to the roasting ovens, which have a commanding view of the site, try to imagine this peaceful haven as a busy, noisy and smoky industrial center.
Retrace your steps down the terraces, to the blast furnace and continue following the blue blazes. Along the way, you will pass a puddling furnace and steel mill. Follow the blue blazes past the information board to the parking lot where this loop began.