From the time of its earliest settlement, this region was known as "The Wilderness of Spotsylvania" because of its dense thickets and poor soil. Locals called the countryside just west of the Wilderness "The Poison Fields." High concentrations of iron and other minerals (including gold) in the soil made for poor growing conditions, scrawny trees dominated here. The iron industry rendered the landscape even more forbidding. The rich mineral content of the soil spawned mines and iron furnaces as early as 1718. Those furnaces (like Catharine Furnace, in front of you) required vast amounts of charcoal, which in turn demanded that huge swaths of timber be cut for fuel. The cutting operations which continued for decades, left behind a landscape engulfed by newly emerging pines, stunted oaks, vines, thorn bushes, and honeysuckle — "a wilderness in the most forbidding sense of the word," wrote one officer.