In few places is history layered across the landscape like it is in the Hamilton Valley.
Caution: There are feral hogs in the Hamilton Valley. Or at least there were in early March, 2013. I'm not going back unless I'm with some other people, and I'm going to call the park office first. I regard feral hogs as the most dangerous large animal in the Ozarks. Big ones aren't scared of people. I'd rather run into a bear.
Hamilton is a seldom visited, not easy to find section of Meremec State Park. It's on the south side of the Meremec River, across from the main part of the park and all of its facilities. The land was handed over to the park following the defeat of the Meremec River dam.
The centerpiece of the valley, and the most accessible and obvious set of artifacts, is the old Hamilton Iron Works. It is a late 19th century, charcoal-fueled iron smelter. The park does a good job of providing interpretive information about the site, so it's not hard to get a sense of what the place was like, despite most of it being gone except the main portion of the smelter (see image above), and glass-like chunks of dross left over from smelting:
Where the government acquired the land for the dam, there was a cattle-raising operation in the valley. Bits of it survive, like this silo:
Where the Iron Works is crude (large blocks of roughly hewn, local limestone), the silo is a subtle piece of modular engineering. The difference is not so much that the Iron Works are 50 or 75 years older than the silo; instead, its that the silo was a mass-produced structure (silos like this are all over the Ozarks):
And there are ruins which seem mid-twentieth century, although I can't quite make out what they are:
The trail itself is easy to follow. It seems to follow an old road, which runs alongside old fields. Lots of cedar and brush:
Hamilton Creek runs along the other wise of the trail. It's a fairly typical small creek, not big enough to fish, but big enough to always have some water in it. Between the brushy, overgrown fields and the perennial creek, there's plenty of game in the valley. I saw deer, heard turkey, and saw unmistakable evidence of feral hogs.
The trail peters out near a fairly substantial spring, which features a spring house:
The spring house is best described as "folk concrete construction." The aggregate appears to be river (or creek) gravel. The gravel is unevenly distributed in layers, which suggests that the spring house was built in layers, each layer made up of one batch of concrete, and each batch made up according to no precise recipe.
I suppose I could date the spring house. It was built after cement--in bags, most likely--was available, but before electric was run into the valley (see below). Similar temporal mixings occur elsewhere, as in this gate, with both wood and steel components:
The valley has a certain air, if not of hasty abandonment, then of "I done farming." Here, spare barbed wire fencing was left, coiled up next to an old fence.
Old photos, taken when the land was purchased for the dam, show a substantial homestead in the valley. I didn't make it to the homestead. The brush and cedars were especially thick there, and the hog trails were like highways. But I did come across some hardware left over from the homestead's phone service:
Just to round things out, back by the Iron Works and the silo, there are the remains of tin-roofed-and-walled shanty. You can tell it was a shanty by the old beer cans and kitched trash scattered around it.
And sometimes the trash is just inexplicable. I have no idea what this was: