Friday, September 6, 2019

Wicked Good Charcoal

Common among the imagery of recent Labor Day advertisements were iconic scenes of cooking out with charcoal. Remember we still have seventeen days of summer left and fall is also a great time for grilling - especially tailgating for football games at Kennett (our first home game is next Friday the 13th). Today we think of charcoal briquettes as having a standardized shape and size.

However, charcoal in this form only goes back to the late nineteenth century...

...and has a lot to do with these so-called vagabonds who camped in our White Mountains.

For the history of the vagabonds (from left to right: Firestone, Ford, Edison and Kingsford) see this link.  

Today there is an emerging trend which represents the renaissance of an ancient industry. This new "artisan" charcoal is promoted as being 100% natural, gourmet, and both gluten and petroleum free.

This "natural" charcoal played a more important role than cooking in our local historical landscape.

In his 1858 journal, Henry David Thoreau wrote that he spent the night in a colliers (or charcoal makers) "shanty" on Mount Washington. Here is a view of Chocorua from 1882.

Here is a photo of the same view from 1982. Thanks to the ongoing efforts of a small group of landowners, this view of Lake Chocorua and indeed, the surrounding area, has been protected and this comparison of views from 1882 and 1982 one-hundred years of conservation. For more on this group see this link.

However, if you could have seen this area about one-hundred years before that, the scene below would have been common.

This is the way charcoal was made for ages. The picture below shows the different stages in building the charcoal kiln and removing the finished charcoal.

Charcoal was a key ingredient in making local iron. Chocorua Village was known at Tamworth Iron Works as seen on the 1860 Carroll County Map.

The village of Iron Works Falls once straddled the towns of Freedom and Effingham on the Ossipee River as seen on the same map.

Throughout the state there are a number of New Hampshire highway markers that help map out the early industrial landscape. The best preserved iron furnace is the Franconia Iron Works. 

In a future blog, we look at how an iron furnace works. In the mean time, please let me know what you think. For more details on this or any other historical subject in the White Mountains, contact us at the Conway Public Library's Henney History Room.

No comments:

Post a Comment