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History of Caledonia State Park

Thaddeus Stevens 1792-1868

Called the Great Commoner, Thaddeus Stevens was an abolitionist, radical republican, and was one of the most effective and powerful legislators of the Civil War era. Some historians consider Stevens the de facto leader of the United States during the presidency of Andrew Johnson. Stevens became the third person in American history to be given the privilege of lying in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda, following Senator Henry Clay and President Lincoln.

Born in Caledonia County, Vermont, Stevens would face many prejudices for having a club-foot. This and his birth to a poor family likely forged a lifelong drive to defend the poor and persecuted. After graduation from Dartmouth in 1815, Stevens moved to York, Pa. to teach, but within a year moved to Gettysburg, Pa. to practice law, dabble in real estate, and in 1822, enter the iron business with the opening of Maria Furnace in Fairfield, Adams County.

Finding better iron ore in Franklin County, Stevens built a new charcoal iron works, which went into blast in 1837. The Caledonia Iron Works grew to include the:

  • Charcoal iron furnace
  • Forge
  • Rolling mill
  • Stables
  • Warehouses
  • Blacksmith shop
  • Sawmill
  • Tenement houses for the workers and their families

Thaddeus Stevens served in the Pennsylvania General Assembly from 1833 to 1841, where he fought for free, public education. In 1842, Stevens moved his law practice to Lancaster, Pa. where he could make a better living as a lawyer and support his iron business interests.

Jumping into politics again, Stevens served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1849 to 1853 and again from 1859 to his death in 1868. During his terms in office, Steven championed the passing of three amendments to the constitution:

  • The 13th -- abolition of slavery
  • The 14th -- citizenship and due process
  • The15th -- the right to vote

Even in death, Stevens illustrated his principles by choosing to be buried in a cemetery that accepted people of all races.

The Park

While Thaddeus Stevens fought for abolition in Washington D.C., Caledonia Iron Works furnace foreman William Hammett was a conductor for the Underground Railroad. Hammett would meet a conductor near Pond Bank and guide run-away slaves north to Greenwood, just west of the park, to meet the next conductor on the journey to freedom. For this, and Stevens’ tireless fight for equal rights, Caledonia State Park is a Path of Freedom site.

During the Gettysburg Campaign of the American Civil War, the confederate cavalry of General J.A. Early raided throughout southern Pennsylvania but followed a policy to destroy no private property or industry. The cavalry burned and pillaged Caledonia. Early explained his actions, “Mr. Stevens is an enemy of the South. He is in favor of confiscating their property and arming the Negroes. His property must be destroyed.”

The Confederate Army marched through the ruins of Caledonia on their way to the Battle of Gettysburg, then retreated back the same way, followed by the Union army.

With money from Stevens and the help of the Ahl brothers, Cumberland County ironmen, furnace manager John Sweeney rebuilt the furnace and forge, which continued to operate at a reduced capacity until 1870.

After a 19-year estate battle over the Caledonia property, the Diller brothers of Lancaster County purchased the iron works in 1887 and operated quarries for ganister sand and other minerals. In 1903, the Caledonia Mining and Manufacturing Company, then owned by a New York investment group headed by telephone magnate Theodor Vail, sold most of the Caledonia Iron Works lands to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as part of the new Forest Reserve System. The tracts of cutover forestlands were being set aside as a future supply of timber and to be “outing grounds for citizens.”

The Chambersburg and Gettysburg Electric Railway Company leased the area around the old furnace and blacksmith shop as a trolley park. The company turned the former blacksmith shop into a trolley station and built amusement rides and a dance pavilion.

In 1927, the Pa. Alpine Club, a local hiking group, reconstructed the old furnace stack as a reduced scale model monument to the iron works.

From 1933 to 1939, young men of camp SP-18-PA of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built many of the roads throughout Michaux State Forest and recreational facilities at Caledonia State Park.