Maps may lead us to buried treasure, but not all treasure is found below the ground. On Saturday, June 8, learn more about the map holdings of CHS at our Behind-the-Scenes tour. A map recently discovered in the Rudd and Holley Family Collection leads us to another kind of “buried treasure.” Malcolm D. Rudd was an antiquarian who collected materials and wrote about his family, their businesses, and their community of Lakeville, CT. In his papers is a treasure map which details the community around the Mt. Riga Furnace, which Malcolm’s great-great-grandfather, Luther Holley, had helped start.
The northwest corner of Litchfield County is part of the Housatonic Valley, an area rich in iron ore, which had forty furnaces in blast and was the center of the iron industry from the American Revolution to the mid-19th century. This area’s blast furnaces produced cannon for the Continental army and musket barrels for the Springfield and Harpers Ferry arsenals for the new nation.
One of the most prosperous furnaces was located below the outlet of South Pond. There was abundant water power to operate the bellows and high quality iron ore, limestone, and charcoal were close at hand. The Mt. Riga Furnace was begun in 1802 and finally was put into blast in 1810. Around this furnace clustered a community that thrived until the furnace went out of blast in 1847.
Today, there are a few homes in the area, but this once thriving industrial complex is gone. The map of the Mt. Riga furnace was drawn in 1902 from C.H. Ball’s memories of the village forty seven years earlier in 1855.
What makes this map so useful to historians is that it not only depicts the locations of buildings and roads, but it identifies what kind of buildings they were such as residence, furnace, coal shed, etc. It also provides the name of the people living within the building and the number of people who lived there. Another interesting note is whether or not the building was still standing in 1902.
To antiquarians like Malcolm D. Rudd, we owe a large debt of gratitude for his efforts in preserving the history of his family and his community. Without his efforts to capture Ball’s memories of Mt. Riga, our knowledge of this important area of Connecticut and its early industrial history would be less rich. The treasures of Connecticut’s past would remain buried and lost to future generations.
The Research Center has a treasure trove of primary resources about the iron industry and trade in the Salisbury region of Litchfield County. You can search for these records through our online catalog chs.kohalibrary.com.
VivianLea Solek is an intern in the CHS Archives, a student at Simmons Graduate School of Library and Information Science, and is processing the Rudd and Holley Family Papers