Skip Navigation
Regional News
A miner in the dangerous below-ground world of Lyon Mountain (Source:  Lawrence P. Gooley)
A miner in the dangerous below-ground world of Lyon Mountain (Source: Lawrence P. Gooley)

The hard, rich iron years of Lyon Mountain

Listen to this story
The Clinton County village of Lyon Mountain is a community that's trying to find its future. The state correctional facility closed down two years ago and the buildings go up for auction in July.

This isn't the first time Lyon Mountain has had to reinvent itself. In 1967, the iron mine that drove early prosperity closed its doors for good. The proud company town has struggled ever since.

Lyon Mountain's iron mining era still shapes the memories and local mythology in that part of the North Country.

Hear this

Download audio

Share this


Walking outside the ruins of the old mine, you see a massive tailings pile, a mountain of debris that was hauled up out of the earth by generations of miners. 

The iron mine in Lyon Mountain closed for good in 196.7  Now the prison has closed, too. (Photo: Brian Mann)
The iron mine in Lyon Mountain closed for good in 196.7 Now the prison has closed, too. (Photo: Brian Mann)
On the other side stands a beautiful brick building – a huge brick building that used to be the work place for hundreds of men.

“My father was an employee for Republic Steel for thirty-two years,” says Bill LaDuke, who owns a home a few blocks from the mine. 

I meet him on a day when he’s raking his front yard – doing some spring chores.  Like a lot of people here, he sees two communities when he looks down main street. 

He sees the sleepy place that exists now and a very different, thriving town.

“Well, obviously a little more busy, more vibrant.  It was a great place to grow up.  The company provided skating rinks, movies, great youth leagues, baseball.”

The truth is, I didn’t really set out to tell the history of Lyon Mountain’s iron mining days. 

But the last couple of years, as I traveled in that part of Clinton County and talked with local people and dug through North Country Public Radio’s archives, I kept finding more and more really cool memories.

“I been here for fifty-three years,” says Mark Siskavitch, who put in time as a corrections officer in Lyon Mountain and serves now as Dannemora’s highway superintendent. 

The iron mining days are over in Lyon Mountain.  But this was once a major industrial site
The iron mining days are over in Lyon Mountain. But this was once a major industrial site
His dad worked up in the mines.  Siskavitch was just a kid when the doors closed for good in 1967. 

“It was a booming town, there was a lot of people.  A lot more than what there is now.  There are only 250 households now.   Compared to what it used to be probably six, seven thousand people," he recalls.

If the iron mining days were sort of a golden age for Lyon Mountain, that prosperity came at a terrible price. 

Historian Lawrence Gooley has written extensively about the community’s iron mining days and says he’s documented 162 deaths over a single century – meaning on to miners gave their lives in Lyon Mountain each year.

"They were hard-working people," Gooley said, in a 2006 interview with NCPR.  "They were proud of what they did.  There were several [miners] who described how terrible it was.  But then they'd say they liked it."

Sometimes the rock underground would suddenly fracture and burst, Gooley says.  Other times, explosive charges laid by the men would misfire or cause collapses.

"There were a lot of deaths, working with explosives underground there was no place for the force to go except into the men."

You all remember what it was like to be in school and the siren [at the mine] would blow. Everybody got quiet... Somebody had lost their father.
"You all remember what it was like to be in school and the siren would blow?" recalled Karen Linney.  

I happened to be at a public meeting a few years ago at Lyon Mountain’s American Legion hall, when she recounted her memories of being a child on those dark days in the town marked by accidents.

"Everybody'd get quiet.  You knew something had happened.  If the nurse stopped at your door, you knew someone in your classroom had lost their father."

But set against the horror and drudgery of the mines was the sense of community and local identity.

One way that took shape was in Lyon Mountain’s ferocious tradition of baseball – one of the earliest baseball teams in America was founded right here.

There was a time when iron miners in Lyon Mountain formed one of the best baseball teams in the North Country.  (Source:  Andy Flynn)
There was a time when iron miners in Lyon Mountain formed one of the best baseball teams in the North Country. (Source: Andy Flynn)
"Baseball as an American game was introduced about 1854, 1855," says Laura Rice chief curator at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake.

"And the first baseball club in Lyon Mountain was established about 1877."

Rice was interviewed for the Adirondack Attic series, talking about a historic baseball uniform from Lyon Mountain – worn by a  miner in the 1870s that's now part of the museum's collection.

"This [uniform decoration] belonged to a man named Charles Henry Bailey, who was a miner at the Chateaugay Orebed Mine at Lyon Mountain.  He was about 23 years old when he joined the baseball team," she says.

Rice says baseball offered a kind of release for miners who spent their days underground – and for their families who lived in the shadow of the constant danger.

"It was a real point of pride for the community.  And I think it gave the community something to rally around, especially when things got hard with the mines."

The baseball diamond is still here in Lyon Mountain and still gets used by local teams.

But these days all that’s left of the mine is that moonscape pile of rubble.  Inside the brick building, old rusting equipment lies in a heap as water trickles through the ruins. 

I ask Mark Siskavitch why he thinks no new industries have come here in the decades since the mine closed down.  He shrugs and says this corner of the Adirondack Mountains is just too remote.

"You're thirty miles, no matter which way you go, from the closest store.  Industries don't want to transport their goods thirty miles."

Back in its early mining days, this was kind of a frontier town – remote and hard.  These days, it feels like a frontier again. 

A little over a month from now, the Lyon Mountain Correctional Facility will be auctioned off by New York state, ending another chapter in local history.  What comes next, no one here knows.

Visitor comments

on:

NCPR is supported by:

This is a Visitor-Supported website.