Friday, July 3, 2009

Mattenylou, This One's For You

Frequent 'in the valley' reader and commenter, and Masslive Nostalgia Forum poster 'Matteny' (or is it Mattenylou?) mentioned to us the existence of an old coke kiln located in Leverett, up near the scenic Rattlesnake Gutter ravine. We headed up that way Friday afternoon to see if we could find it.



We tracked around some of the back roads in the area of the Peace Pagoda and Rattlesnake Gutter, and took in some of Leverett's fine scenery, but could not find the kiln. We were about to give up when we finally asked for directions from a local, who happened to be pedaling by. She directed us to 'Old Coke Kiln Road'...duh.



It was a non-paved but drivable road...



...and we kept an eye out until soon we saw the kiln, tucked in and almost hidden behind some overgrowth, right next to a newer nondescript warehouse building...

The whole carload at first emptied out and tried to get in for a closer look, and we found a big opening on one side.



...but unfortunately we found the opening to be protected by an impassibly deep moat.



The moat was all my intrepid compatriots need to see. Sensing the tick danger in all the overgrowth, they scampered back to the car, leaving me to find another route on my own.



(I'm sure bloggerette would have ventured on with me, if she could walk...)

I made my way around to the other side amid waist-high overgrowth, and found another way in. You can tell it used to be a pretty big coke operation going on here, with the remains of old walls, iron beams and brick debris everywhere.





The kiln itself is really pretty massive, I'd say about 30+ feet wide and at least as high. It has two large openings, one higher one, which used to cross over the aforementioned moat, and another, lower one, on the back side. All around the circumference and near the base are tinier, evenly spaced openings where bricks are missing; perhaps used to let air in for the fire?

I assume the upper opening is where they'd toss the bigger pieces of wood on the fire...



and the lower door where they scooped out the charcoal (or coke)...



The structure is pretty old and some of the thousands of bricks that it's made of are beginning to crumble, so I can see why the locals haven't really kept the place cleared and touristy.



Still, I had to take a quick look inside.



It's pretty much what you'd expect to find in an old kiln, with the inside blackwashed from decades of smoking.



The slightly domed ceiling is a marvel of brickwork, with hundreds of them set in concentric circular patterns, supporting their own weight.



It was a little disconcerting to stand under that old roof, as just one falling brick could mean the end of this loyal adventurer's travels.



Hmm. Lets get back outside...



Blazing my way back to the car, some large pollen shaped puffs that had been floating all around in the tall vegetation landed on a leaf nearby...



...to reveal that they were not pollen at all, but in fact some weird, wispy insect that I don't think I've ever seen before...



I'd better send this example to 'About Amherst's resident entomologist for analysis...

Now, since we're in the area, let's get another, more summery look at Rattlesnake Gutter...

6 comments:

Holly said...

Those are hemlock woolly adelgids - invasive nasty buggers threatening our hemlocks...

Tony said...

So thats what they are. This doesn't bode well for Leverett or the Pioneer Valley.

Thanks for the i.d. Holly...

Tommy said...

Cool, I've been there but didn't have the balls to go inside.

Mattenylou said...

Tony-
Happy to see you made it there! I should have warned you to go in the Spring or Fall when you don't have to wade thru that high grass, sorry. I'm always afraid of those critters that slither thru the undergrowth!

I wonder how old that kiln is? The brickwork is a tribute to a bygone era.

Hope you had a fun time... we were in that neck of the woods for the weekend, too.

Tony said...

Tommy I was half expecting to find a bear living in there...

Mattenylou, I once saw a picture of another, older one that was in Leverett once, but I'm guessing this one was from the early 2oth century...

Thanks again for the tip on it, it was fun to find..!

Anonymous said...

There used to be 3 or 4 ovens there. BTW, the kilns are on private property.