PORT HENRY - Imagine a locomotive engine pulling nearly 400 tons of iron ore racing full speed out of control.
It happened Feb. 23, 1905, in Mineville. The engineer and fireman jumped from the train to save themselves, leaving tons of iron hurtling two miles at more than 100 mph toward Port Henry. Two miles later it crashed at "Switchback."
Witnessed claim the entire train went airborne for more than 200 feet before disintegrating into tiny pieces.
"There wasn't a piece left you could recognize, except maybe a wheel," said Jim Davis.
Davis studied the wreck and the history of railroads in the community for the "Historic Moriah 2011 Calendar." The calendar, complete with photos, tells the history of railroads and mining in Moriah.
The calendar, a fundraising project of the Town of Moriah Historical Society, is now on sale at Moriah Pharmacy, Sagan's, Moriah town hall, Port Henry village hall, Sherman Free Library and at the Iron Center, 34 Park Place, Port Henry. People can order calendars by calling 546-3587 or E-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
The cost is $10 each, plus $1.73 postage, if mailed.
"Jim Davis is one of our trustees of the Town of Moriah Historical Society," explained Joan Daby, historical society president. "Jim and Brian Venne and a couple other men thought it would be a good idea to do a 'all train' calendar. Jim did most of the work for it.
"The calendar is a good one, especially for the train buffs, as it gives a lot of information and photos of the Lake Champlain & Moriah Railroad, our local railroad that was built in 1869 and served our mining operations through 1971," Daby said.
Davis is proud of the calendar.
"It was a fun project," he said. "I live on Pelfershire Road, midway between the Pelfershire and Cheever mines so I'm interested in their histories. The railroad is the thing that made the mines tremendously productive for 100 years."
Iron ore from Cheever, just north of Port Henry, was used by Benedict Arnold to built the initial U.S. Navy fleet in Whitehall in 1776, Davis said. By the Civil War, 68,000 tons of iron ore a year were being shipped from the Cheever dock on Lake Champlain.
Even greater iron deposits were discovered in Mineville, Davis said, which led to the construction of the Plank Road - which is still in use - in 1848. At any given time 100 teams of oxen and horses were on the road hauling iron ore to docks in Port Henry.
In 1869 the Lake Champlain & Moriah Railroad was constructed, a 7.1-mile line linking Mineville and Port Henry. Thanks to the rail line, by 1873 nearly 2,700 boats carrying 105 tons each were leaving Port Henry from April to November.
"It was a phenomenal operation, Davis said. "The 2011 calendar tells the story."
That story is also told at the Iron Center Museum in Port Henry. Located at Park Place, adjacent to the Moriah town hall, the museum gives visitors a glimpse at the iron ore mining and railroad industries when they flourished in the community.
The museum, home to the Town of Moriah Historical Society, opened in 1998 and was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000.
Besides an exhibition area, the museum has an office, an upstairs research area, rest rooms and a gift shop.
Outside the museum building, a locomotive, iron ore car and caboose are on display on a length of track.
Moriah officially became a town Feb. 12, 1808, when the state legislature approved Moriah's request to become separate from the town of Crown Point.
Moriah traces its history to the 18th Century. After the Treaty of 1763, soldiers were given land by King George for their service in the French and Indian War.
Iron ore was discovered in those lands, lumber and grist mills sprang up, farms started, furnaces were built, and the shipping of ore started, first by water, then by railroad.
Many families came to work in the iron ore mining industry, which flourished from around 1824-1971. Mines were privately owned, then became the property of Witherbee-Sherman & Co., and finally in 1938 the Republic Steel Corporation. In the late 1800s and early 1900s most of the large hotels, homes, churches and schools were built, many still existing today.