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Lifelong Hikes – History is Natural

March 31, 2014

It is easy to become comfortable with our surroundings in a particular region, and we often forget how geological forces have shaped our landscape throughout history. A walk in nature can lead to pauses that remind us of our connection to the world around us.

In March, the Lifelong Hikers* explored the Endor Iron Furnace** in Lee County, a site where the past and present blend together. The furnace was built to supply the Confederacy with iron used in all facets of the Civil War. On our way there we drove past road construction, a water treatment plant, and railroad tracks to this historic site — all showing evidence of the continuous human influence on this area.

North Carolina State Historic Site

Endor Iron Furnace

As we began our hike to explore the short trail to the furnace ruins, the scenery changed. The Deep River was visible on its curved path towards the Cape Fear River. We passed  over a hillside covered with oak trees and painted buckeye, and the muddy trail was peppered with trout lilies, which are some of the first spring wildflowers visible in the Piedmont.

Native North Carolina Tree

Painted Buckeye

The furnace, though well past its prime, still stood tall and impressive at the bottom of the hill. Why was this location chosen for an iron furnace? We find the answer in the geologic history of this area. Much of Lee County is located in a region of our state called the Triassic Basin, which contains rocks that are 190-200 million years old. Prehistoric reptiles called phytosaurs once roamed this area. (One of the first fossil specimens collected by the American Museum of Natural History in New York is a phytosaur from this county.) They belong to a sliver of time that also created the iron ore and coal deposits that led humans to settle and develop industries here.

Native North Carolina wildflower

Trout Lily

We observed the now silent furnace, but in that moment we could imagine the non-stop hustle of men turning rock into supplies, hoping to change a war’s outcome. The thought of a bustling wartime industry seemed so unlikely in this quiet place, but the scenery reminded us of our past. We are much like the plants that grow beneath our feet. We are rooted in the ancient history of the earth, and we change as the landscape changes.

*On the second Wednesday of each month you can register to join the Museum on a day trip to explore natural habitats around our state. Lifelong Hikes are open to ages 18 and up.

**Endor Iron Furnace is a State Historic Site managed by the Department of Cultural Resources. Currently this feature is not open to the public, but plans are in place to stabilize the structure and create a park.

Photos by Jerry Reynolds and Martha Fisk.

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