Mason County Memories… West Virginian Stonehenge

By Chris Rizer - Special to OVP

Brush overtakes an igloo in the TNT area north of Point Pleasant. (Chris Rizer | Courtesy)

Brush overtakes an igloo in the TNT area north of Point Pleasant. (Chris Rizer | Courtesy)

Last week was “an American Parthenon.” This idea of this week’s article is along those same lines, but in a slightly different direction.

House ruins, whether those of a frontier homestead or massive plantation, are usually recognizable as a house. It’s quite obvious that someone once lived there, though only a portion of it might still be standing. And the value of such a ruin lies in its beauty and grace, its picturesque qualities.

An industrial ruin is a bit different, because they’re usually unidentifiable unless you already know what you’re seeing. A pile of sandstone blocks in the middle of town could have been the foundation of a home, or it could have been a salt furnace. An odd bumped-out section of the riverbank could be natural, or it could be an early version of an ice pier, like the concrete versions later built at Middleport and Gallipolis. A domed structure in the woods, if completely overgrown, could easily be mistaken for an Indian mound if you weren’t familiar with that particular area. If you haven’t noticed yet, these are all examples from Mason County.

The Bend Area is covered in the remnants of the salt and coal industries, and nowhere is this more clear than Hartford. That pile of large sandstone blocks? In the trailer park, there is a large mound beneath which is buried a large pile of sandstone blocks. This was the foundation for the Hartford Salt Company’s coal tipple. That odd riverbank protrusion? That truly was an early ice break, just upriver from the Hartford wharf. And those are only the beginning.

The most extensive salt ruins are just outside of town, across Route 62 from Harvey Road. Most people notice the small brick ruins just off the road, which was part of the Lerner Bromine Works associated with the German Salt Furnace. What fewer people notice are the massive sandstone block foundations and terraces behind that small building, which formed the foundation of the salt furnace itself. If one didn’t know better, these could easily be mistaken for terraced gardens, like those at the Mai Moore Mansion.

That domed structure in the woods? I’m sure all of my readers know that I was referring to the “igloos,” but as overgrown as some of them are, out-of-town visitors who may not be familiar with the TNT Area or World War II trinitrotoluene storage bunkers could easily mistake them for Native American burial mounds like the hundreds of others scattered across West Virginia and Ohio. In fact, there were once several nearby before construction of the Ordnance Works leveled them. And of course, those are not the only ruins in what is now the McClintic Wildlife Area.

All throughout McClintic, the ruins stand like West Virginia’s version of Stonehenge. The foundations of two power plants, remnants of a dozen TNT production lines, concrete towers that once supported two dozen acid storage tanks, 104 igloos, and two enormous reservoirs on the hill overlooking the plant stand as a testament to American engineering capabilities during a time when speed was essential.

With such fantastic and historic ruins, wonderful fishing and kayaking opportunities in over two dozen ponds, hunting and trapping opportunities, the potential for miles of hiking and biking opportunities in the hunting off-season, and of course, the Mothman legend, the TNT

Area has some real economic potential with just a little bit of work in camping and trail infrastructure. The public has made it fairly clear that this is something with serious interest, but of course, the trick is balancing that economic potential with the responsibilities of a Wildlife Management Area.

Can it be done? It seems like Bluestone Lake WMA, with its seven camping areas and 22 miles of hiking trails, has been fairly successful. Granted, they have Bluestone Lake and the New River Gorge, but we have the Ohio River, Kanawha River, and in my opinion, one of the best downtowns between Wheeling and Cincinnati!

Or, perhaps we ought to take a page from Beech Fork Lake? Rather than develop the WMA itself, perhaps the answer is to develop a neighboring parcel as a full-fledged state park with all of the usual amenities. Then, as fishing, hunting, and kayaking would remain the same, the only change necessary to the WMA itself would be to develop a few hiking trails, which benefits anglers and hunters who need access to the back country as much as it would hikers and could be easily accomplished simply by bush-hogging the old ordnance works roads.

Maybe the land around the airport, currently slated for industrial development, could be purchased and used for this purpose? It’s just a thought, anyhow.

Information from the writings of Mildred Gibbs, records of the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, and my own work documenting these ruins.

Brush overtakes an igloo in the TNT area north of Point Pleasant. (Chris Rizer | Courtesy) overtakes an igloo in the TNT area north of Point Pleasant. (Chris Rizer | Courtesy)

By Chris Rizer

Special to OVP

Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at [email protected]

Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at [email protected]