Photo Gallery | Historic items from the Lenox Dale furnace and glass works

LENOX — Preservation of the town's early industrial history, now a distant memory, became a labor of love project this year for resident Jan Chague.

Her new booklet on "The History of Lenox Dale and Lenox Furnace" will be showcased Saturday by the Lenox Historical Society at the private nonprofit's annual holiday season open house from noon to 3 p.m.

Chague is a board member of the society, which hosts the Museum of Lenox History at the 1803 Academy building, 65 Main St., a site listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


Last year, she embarked on a study of the Lenox Furnace, site of the town's Iron Works and its glass manufacturing offshoot in "the Dale," as residents call the village of Lenox Dale.

Chague worked her way through four thick binders of information compiled by the late Edward Cahalan, a village native, with photos assembled by Robert Liston, Sr. The materials were provided by historian and antiques dealer Charles Flint, also a Historical Society board member.

"When I started going through it, I couldn't believe how much research had been done," Chague said during a conversation at the Academy building, where preparations for Saturday's event were underway. The binders originally had been prepared for the Lenox bicentennial in 1967.

"I felt like I was in a candy store, all the information was a treasure trove," Chague added. She began her research 18 months ago with the blessings of society Curator Vickie Salvatore and the board.

"No one else jumped at the chance to do this," said Salvatore, a lifelong local resident. "When Jan agreed to do the research and write the book, we were thrilled. She has such a great interest in it, and it's in her heart. It was a labor of love."

Glass shards from the Lenox Furnace are on display at the Lenox Historical Society in the old Lenox Academy.
Glass shards from the Lenox Furnace are on display at the Lenox Historical Society in the old Lenox Academy. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)

As Chague explained it, "I have a passion for history and I wanted to capture it. 'The Dale' was so integral to Lenox, and I just felt somebody needed to express what had been done there."

"Cahalan's research opened my eyes to what was there," she noted. "From his descriptions, I could almost visualize what it looked like."

Since a rich vein of underground iron ore ran through Lenox, iron had already become a major industry in the mid-18th century. According to the official town history, the ore was processed into bullets for troops fighting the British during the Revolutionary War.

In the 1780s, Job Gilbert, an entrepreneur from eastern Massachusetts, established the Lenox Iron Works, but the business fell on hard times and had to be rescued by as many as 50 local citizen-partners led by Judge William Walker, Chague said.

The furnace district, home to the glassworks factory built in 1853 to manufacture plate glass, was at the foot of Walker Street, now the Veterans Memorial Park.

New techniques of ironmaking in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, such the replacement of charcoal by less-expensive coke — a fuel derived from coal — contributed to the demise of the Furnace District, as did high freight costs for transporting large quantities of made-in-Lenox products by rail.

The blast furnace was demolished and the Iron Works building was disassembled around 1870, after a century of high-volume manufacturing in Lenox Dale, which had three schools and quite a few businesses during the community's industrial heyday.

The iron company's glassworks also closed in 1872 following financial setbacks and futile attempts to restructure the business.

But remnants, including slag glass derived from schist rock formations found on October Mountain, can still be dug out in the area, often visited by schoolchildren on field trips as well as history buffs.

Lenox Dale's early years have been a focus of intense interest locally, including a digital archive of historic photos curated by Lenox Library Acting Director Amy Lafave and made available online last April.

Chague is a Chicago native who moved to Lenox in 1989 when she married Gene Chague, the Eagle's longtime outdoor sports columnist.

Her booklet is accompanied by a separate, large commemorative map of the area prepared by illustrator Bart Arnold. Both are on sale at Saturday's open house for $10 each, or $18 for the book and map. Proceeds benefit programs and events at the Historical Society's Museum of Lenox History.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

If You Go ...

What: Lenox Historical Society's annual Holiday Open House.

When: Noon to 3 p.m. Saturday

Where: Lenox Academy Building, 65 Main St.

Why: Celebration of "The History of Lenox Dale and Lenox Furnace," a book just published by Jan Chague, for sale at the event to benefit the society's Museum of Lenox History.