The Burden Ironworks Museum

Burden Iron Works- Outside.jpg

The Burden Ironworks Museum

By Jessica Pasko

Today they're calling it "the new Brooklyn" (OK, some people are calling it the new Brooklyn) but industrial historian Tom Carroll is more likely to refer to Troy as the 19th Century Silicon Valley.

Before The Collar City was known for its collars, it was known for producing horseshoes, railroad ties and other iron products -- including a cast for the Centennial Liberty Bell and parts of the USS Monitor.

Carroll has collected that history at Troy's Burden Ironworks Museum -- and he can tell you everything you want to know about they city's industrial history... and then some.

Wait, don't let that scare you off. Some of it is pretty interesting stuff.

The museum itself once served as the offices for the Burden Iron Works Company. It grew out of the Troy Iron and Nail Factory, but Scotsman Henry Burden took it from a little local operation to one of the most important iron mills of its day.

Burden patented a machine that could make horseshoes and the company scored a contract to make the horseshoes for the Union Army. At its peak the iron works was grossing $400 million (in today's money) just in horseshoes.

But even before that Burden patented a process for making railroad ties by machine. That patent led to a 28-year patent infringement court battle with railroad tycoon Erastus Corning. Yep, the great-grandfather of the longtime Mayor of Albany. The case reached the Supreme Court and to this day it's still one of the longest patent battles ever.

The museum's a tiny place that's still being renovated. The plan is to turn it into a full showcase of the area's industrial history. Some of the information might seem a little, well... arcane. But if you're willing to give it a chance and take a tour, you can pick up some cool facts.

For instance, there's a very good chance that the first Ferris Wheel was actually inspired by the mightiest water wheel of its day -- the one that powered the Burden factory. The designs are remarkably similar and inventor George Ferris, an RPI graduate, studied the wheel while there. Try whipping that little factoid out at your next cocktail party. 

Meanwhile, the Meneely Bell Foundry cast many of the most famous bells in the country, including the replica of the Liberty Bell that was hung in Philly after the original bell cracked and moved into the visitors' center. Some of the casts used to make that bell are on display at the museum, too, along with several full-size bells. If you want, they'll let you ring one.


All jokes aside, you can definitely learn a lot at the Burden Museum. I had no idea there was quite such a rich history of stove-making or rototiller production, nor did I know that Troy can boast having the first truly all-female labor union. The museum still has a ways to go, but it's definitely not a bad way to spend a little time learning a few things. It's on the National Registry of Historic Places and it's housed in a really cool brick building, too.

Oh, and admission is by donation -- so this definitely qualifies as cheap fun.

Find It

The Burden Ironworks Museum
One East Industrial Parkway
Troy, NY 12180


I was actually going to suggest this place for a stop on Sebastien and B's Urban Decay Tour of the Capital Region™. The building itself won't qualify for Urban Decay, but the grounds of the building are covered with old, rusting, iron works and mill equipment. That in itself is quite cool.

Also, it's not mentioned in the article, but I thought you had to call ahead to make an appointment for this museum. Are there now regular hours, or do you still need to call ahead?

I always wanted to check this place out, but I want to wait until they have an open house or set days/hours of operation or something. The museum looks so small and open by appointment only... and I feel bad having someone open the place up just for one person to take a quick look around.

This sounds like a great place to bring my hubs. I wonder if they'll object to extremely well behaved dogs.

Side note to Paul: I heard there's an old abandoned asylum in the Saratoga area somewhere. I'm too chicken to go there myself (I've watched too many episodes of Ghost Hunters) but have you guys checked it out?

@Jessica: thanks for the tip, though I'm not quite sure what the building looks like. I guess I could drive by. Or wait 20 years.

Actually the first abandoned building I visited was an Ironworks / Coke Factory / whatevertheycallit in Troy back in December, down the road from this museum, with Paul, Justin and Michael (B's wasn't part of the Urban Decay Tour at that time). Some photos here (disclaimer, newbie shots, that was my first week with a DSLR camera, an entry level Canon Rebel):

This building, as many others, has been completely gutted since then. And that is why we like to share pictures before they are gone...

Some info re: my previous comment here.


I think it's in Gansevoort or around there. I heard a few people talking about it like it was THE scariest place they have ever seen much less been inside. Those Urban Decay guys haven't proven anything until they go there.

Aww. :) If we are talking about one of the Kirkbride asylums near Poughkeepsie (Hudson River State Hospital), it actually has been shot a lot (including this great photo set by Paul).

To be honest any abandoned building is full of surprise, be it sneaky pigeons, hypothetical frogs (right B? :), or collapsing stairs (my personal favorite since yesterday). As usual, be careful.

The "asylum" which was for patients suffering from tuberculosus is located in the Town of Providence on road labeled as both "Barkersville Rd" and "Bill's Rd." (find the spot on Google Earth where both names are present and you will be looking right at the building)

There are videos from inside here. I drove up a couple of years ago and found the place enclosed in 12 foot high chain link fences with ten foot high signs painted on the building warning about trespassing. I stopped in a little turn around just to get my bearings. Within a minute, people across the street had me in their sights. From one house to another, people were watching every move I made.

To put it mildly, the locals do NOT like trespassers. I think you can rest assured that they would call the sheriff's office.

@Bob: there is no way locals would spot a 6'3" guy wearing a pair of manpris, stripped shirt, moustache, beret and baguette. I blend in.

Oooh, wow! I'll have to visit sometime; I thought the whole place had been abandoned!

If you search for "Saratoga County Sanatorium" on YouTube you'll find a number of videos made inside the place. Some of them have a really obnoxious music soundtrack. The usual rumors of ghosts, bad things happening to people who visit, etc.

This one has some actual history...

Anyway -S there are those (perhaps you among them) who are willing to climb the fence and slip through a window ... And yes, I did have this vision of you trying to sneak in with all the neighbors watching.

@ Bob F. I dunno...a lot of people I know have been there and nobody got in trouble, but they always went at night- probably not the best time for photography.

Here's the deal with the Burden museum:
Most days, someone is there between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., but just to be sure you should probably call 274-5267 to be sure. You can also set up an appointment using that number.

Jess has that almost right. We're now here most WEEKdays, not most days, from 10 to 6, and other times by appointment, but always call first at 518-274-5267 to ensure that someone will be here and available to show you around when you arrive. Also, that gives us time to prepare for you. We don't turn on all the computer displays, or turn on the lights, or turn up the heat in the winter, unless we know somebody's coming. And if you come in summer, dress appropriately for the weather, because we're not air conditioned. Sorry we're not fully up and running on a more regular schedule than that yet. There simply isn't the money or the staff to do it. And do please let us know if you know someone with a spare million or three to help us finish things off around here. Thanks. And thanks to Jessica Pasko for the story. Tom Carroll, Executive Director, Burden Iron Works Museum.

Hello. About 4 years ago I bought a huge, 400 pound free-standing maple butcher block at a yard sale for a whopping $50. It was coated with many years of grease and grime, and I spent many days cleaning and restoring it. I have been trying to find out about it because on the side it has burned into the wood, "U.S." I live in Salt Lake City and thought that it may have been a butcher block used in the kitchen of Fort Douglas, but the big question mark is a cast iron butcher knife and knife sharpener holder that is screwed into the side. It has one word across the bar on the front: "Burden". It is very heavy duty, and solid. Not a bit of wear and tear, nor any rust. Now that I understand how Burden Iron Works sold iron horseshoes to the Union Army during the Civil War, I wonder if Burden Iron Works also made other items for the Army such as this. But I am baffled as to how this huge butcher block made it all the way to Utah. Believe me, it could not have been brought out by wagon or pulled by horse. Did Burden Iron Works sell various kitchen and supply items to the Army, such as this?

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