The York Iron Company Mine

Posted by on June 30, 2011 in Historic | 0 comments

Located within the rolling hills of southern York County is a 72-acre patch of forest that has seen change over the years. In fact, during the heyday of the property in the 1870s, the trees weren’t even present and the property was open field. Today, located in North Codorus Township, just north of Green Valley Road, is P. Joseph Raab County Park, the home of the former York Iron Company Iron mine.

Location of iron mines east of Dillsburg

The park is small in size as county parks go, but it is what is preserved on the property that is important. Although primitive with a small 12-car parking area along Hoff Road, a ½-mile walk into the park will yield some surprises. Walking the trails allows views of trenches, pits, dumps and mine shaft openings from the strong iron ore manufacturing of the 19th century.

The Knotwell mine is located along the northern boundary of the park

The story of the discovery of the ore deposit began in 1854 with John Musselman, probably discovering specimens of specular hematite in quartz laying on the surface as
float. In 1861, the York Iron Company began to work the property. It is not known if the company owned or leased the property. The specular hematite and magnetically charged
phyllite (a metamorphic rock) were removed. About 10 to 20 tons of ore were mined per day by 12 to 25 miners. The ore ranged from 35 to 43 percent iron.  Because of the location of the mine (in what is locally known as Strickhouser’s Ravine), most of the work was conducted above water table on both sides of the valley.  A total of four adits (horizontal shafts or drifts) are known in the ravine. A large trench 70 feet deep and nearly 400 feet long is located on the eastern side of the ravine. Numerous waste dumps are scattered throughout the area.

THe largest adit at Raab County Park with bat door

Each adit had its own narrow-gauge track to transport ore from the property. The iron ore was loaded onto small cars carrying perhaps 1,500 pounds of rock down the valley. It then was transferred onto larger cars at Strickhouser Station along the Hanover Branch Railroad about 0.75 miles south of the mine. Aerial photographs from 1937 show darkened soil representing the railroad beds intersecting with the Hanover Branch.

Although the ore cars run down the valley by gravity, animals such as donkeys and horses rented from area farmers were utilized to pull the cars backup to the mine.  During the later stage of the mine (1880s to 1890s?), the Hanover Branch Railroad installed its own sidling into the property to remove the ore.

A railroad tie was exposed after 2009 flooding.

Most of the ore went to the Ashland Furnace in Ashland, Md., via the North Central Railway. This means that numerous carloads of iron ore passed through Hanover
Junction on their way to one of the largest furnace operations in the mid-Atlantic states.  At the southern end of the Gunpowder Falls Rail Trail (the southern extension of the York County Heritage Rail Trail),  several buildings remain in Ashland that belonged to the furnace company. Foundations of the furnaces are well hidden to the east of the now-abandoned railroad in Ashland.

Remnants of one of the furnaces at Ashland, Md.

The ore removed from the York Iron Company mine was known as “Codorus Ore.” It is also documented that some of the ore went north to another well-known iron ore deposit east of Dillsburg. Although at least 12 mines were associated with this ore district, a Henry McCormick, owner several of these mines, shipped the magnetite ore to his furnace in Harrisburg. Mr. McCormick purchased some of the ore from the York Iron Company to add into his ore, allowing his ore to look better for purchase.

Bat door on a small shaft on the east side of the ravine

Records of the history of the York Iron Company and mine are rare. The ending year of the mining operation is not exactly known, but 1890 is generally used. Why was this date used? This is the time that the larger and richer iron deposits were discovered in the Midwest. Many of the Welsh miners that worked southeastern Pennsylvania mines migrated westward to the higher paying operations. Before the York Iron Company mine was closed, it is believed a vertical shaft was dug on the west side of Strickhouser’s Ravine. According to legendary Seven Valleys area historian,Arthur Glatfelter, this shaft extended
to a depth of 50 feet and was later covered with wooden planks.  Today, the wooden platform has rotted away and the shaft has been washed in.

Since about 1900, the mine has sat quiet and Mother Nature has taken over. What once were open areas during the mining era slowly evolved into a young forest stage; now, the area is a mature forest. During the 1940s and 1950s, Bethlehem Steel Corporation of Bethelem and Alan Wood Steel Company of Pittsburgh both conducted drill coring on the property to determine if any future mining capability existed. Results of those corings are not known. It is known that when the Alan Wood Steel Company went bankrupt, all of the records were destroyed.

In 1984, the property was accepted to the Register of Historic Places. This was precipitated by the proposed low-level chemical landfill in the fields along Hoff Road. In the late 1980s, Waste Management purchased nearly 500 acres on the ridge, including the mine area. The company excavated garbage from a 1950s and 1960s landfill that existed there and removed it to a active landfill. In 1993, after cleanup was complete and the groundwater was found to be clean, Waste Management donated acreage to the County of York for the development of a park, now totaling 73 acres.

Several trails have been developed on both sides of Strickhouser’s Ravine. Trail no. 1 includes a self-guided map with some of the historic structures listed. Trail no. 3 is found on the west side of the park and includes an Eagle-scout project constructing a deck overlooking the ravine. Of course, winter is a better time to visit the park if you want to see all of the historic structures as the park contains abundant underbrush.

A hibernating Little Brown Bat in one of the shafts

York County Parks has taken a positive role in bat preservation. In 1997, the parks department was awarded a grant from the Pennsylvania Conservation Fund to construct a bat door on the largest shaft. Another bat door was constructed over another smaller shaft on the east side of the stream. Parks staff and volunteers conduct an annual bat count into several of the shafts during the winter while the bats are hibernating. Little Brown, Big Brown, Eastern Pipestrelle and Northern Long Earred bats have been identified. The parks also ran several hikes into the park throughout the year. Also, each summer, they run Archaeology Weeks where students age 9-12 spend the week in the park doing real archaeology in trying to put some pieces of the puzzle together about the York Iron Company mine.

An Eastern Pipestrelle bat in one of the mine shafts (photo from Kelsey Frey)

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