Written by Danielle Taylor | Header photo by Dan Freeburg
You may recognize Clarion’s name for its annual award-winning Autumn Leaf Festival, known for the Tournament of Leaves Parade and huge farmers’ and crafters’ day, and the “Traveler’s Oasis” found at Interstate 80’s Exit 62, but if that’s all you know about this county and town, you’re missing out on a lot. The area has a rich history full of intriguing sites and stories, and you’re sure to find something to grab your attention. Those interested in industrial heritage won’t want to miss Helen Furnace and the new Rail 66 Country Trail.
Located in Highland Township a few short miles northeast of Clarion on Route 1005, Helen Furnace was originally named “Highland Furnace” in honor of the landowner Alexander McNaughton’s Scottish homeland, but some visitors to the area accustomed to British and American accents misunderstood the word and began pronouncing both the township and furnace’s names as “Helen.” During the mid-1800s, Clarion County became known as “Iron County” for its generous output of the high-demand metal, and this furnace was one of many in the area that converted raw iron ore into usable building material for ships, trains, structures, road vehicles, machine components, and more. The 32-foot-tall cold-blast furnace was built in 1845 and ceased production in 1857, but while it was in use, it could produce more than 1,000 tons of iron in a year. As time passed, the structure fell into disrepair, but renewed interest in the 1970s led to its reconstruction, and further repairs came after damage from Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Today, visitors can touch and peek inside this relic from a bygone era, and the surrounding park offers a nice place for picnicking.
A few miles to the west, the Rail 66 Country Trail offers a nice mix of industrial history and outdoor recreation, and it passes through a scenic corridor along the path of the former Knox-Kane Railroad and its predecessor, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Currently, 4.3 miles of the four-season trail are open to walkers, runners, cyclists, and cross-country skiers, although trail organizers hope to ultimately open all 24 miles of the line in Clarion County to recreational traffic, and other groups are working to open it through Forest, Elk, and McKean Counties the whole way to Kinzua Bridge State Park. Visitors can find parking near the historic Lucinda train station, and the trail offers great views of area farms, woods, and remaining rails.
Find more interesting places to visit and things to discover in the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors region by going to VisitPAGO.com or calling (814) 849-5197.