Chapter 11 - The Furnaces

Created: Wednesday, 24 March 2010 Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 February 2014 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email



The Pioneer Furnace - Structure of the Stacks - Methods of Manufacture - Review of the Industry - List of Furnaces

CLARION county’s abundant mineral riches were early apparent. In 1828 Christian Myers of Lancaster, then half owner of the Bear-Carpenter-Miller purpart of the Lancaster Company’s purchase, including a slice of Clarion and the greater part of Paint townships; and his partner, Henry Bear, came to this county with the intention of developing the mineral resources of their property. The natives were very distrustful of the strangers, and having no credit with the farmers, they were sometimes reduced to desperate straits for provisions. Judge Myers wrote home, with a melancholy account of the fare: "Bones cooked for soup, and then ground up and cooked over."

After many difficulties Clarion furnace was erected on Little Toby, near its mouth; the spot is now known as Penn Mills. This was the pioneer stack of Clarion county.

Clarion furnace was soon followed by Shippenville and Lucinda furnaces; the industry gained great impetus, and every year saw the erection of new stacks, till the climax was reached in 1845, when eight were erected in that year. A few were built after that, making thirty-one in all.

Clarion’s furnaces were with few exceptions of the "half-stack" size, They were built from rough stone dressed at the edges, and keyed with wooden cross-beams. The interior of the stack was lined with fire-brick, which required to be replaced about every two years; for this purpose an entrance was left in front of the furnace, which was kept walled up while the furnace was in blast. The "bosh" is the widest part of the interior or hearth.

Charcoal was the basis of iron manufacture in Clarion, as well as in Venango and Mercer counties. Almost every wood except hemlock was available; it was burnt in small clearings called "coalings" and "hearths." Chestnut produced the most char to the wood employed; birch, the least. As a medium two hundred bushels of charcoal were consumed to each ton of metal produced.

The ore was mined generally from drifts or banks; sometimes when it lay near a level surface open excavations were made called "strippings." It was hauled to the furnace yard, which lay about on a level with the top of the stack. The furnaces were always constructed at the foot of a little bluff or on a hillside, to facilitate the conveyance of the ore to the tunnel-head. After a preliminary burning by slack coal to free it from dross and dirt, it was wheeled on a bridge to the mouth of the furnace, "tunnel-head," and dumped in with the necessary amount of flux. After a proper interval of time a layer of fuel was placed on top of this, then another deposit of ore, and so on. These alternate layers were called the charges, and he who had supervision of this work, the founder. The blast, cold or hot, as the case might be, was forced into one or more apertures in the sides styled "tuyeres," by means of pistons and drums operated either by steam or water power. The molten metal percolated through the fire, and made its exit through four openings at the bottom, called "notches," one at each side (previously luted), into the moulds.

To produce one ton of iron required three and one-half tons of ore, and about five hundred pounds of limestone as flux. The furnaces at first produced from fifteen to twenty-five tons of pig metal a week, according to their capacity, but in later years, by improved processes and larger and stronger blasts, the weekly output often reached fifty tons.

St. Charles and Redbank were the first furnaces in the county to employ coke; it was made in pits at their own yards. The former for a couple of years previous used the raw coal of the upper Freeport vein very successfully.

The Sligo and Madison company was the only one to introduce "chills," i.e., iron moulds; all the other furnaces ran their metal into sand.

The pigs were transported to Pittsburgh in flat boats, sided up; they were somewhat smaller than the present boats, and generally held from seventy-five to one hundred tons. The lower bridge at Clarion was one of the chief loading places; here Clarion, Lucinda, Shippenville, Washington, and Martha furnaces brought their iron for transportation; it was the scene of much life and bustle, for often one hundred men were at work together, loading the boats; those were halcyon days! Beaver furnace and Madison loaded at Hahn’s Ferry at the mouth of Piney; the wharf at Callensburg was the lading point for Sligo, Prospect, Buchanan, and the other furnaces in that vicinity. Those further south and west sent their products to the Redbank and Allegheny.

The larger furnaces, such as Lucinda, Madison, and Shippenville, employed from seventy-five, to one hundred hands; the smaller, as Washington, Wild Cat, and Mary Ann, from twenty-five to fifty; the workmen were ore-diggers, teamsters, wood-choppers, charcoal-burners, and furnace men. The wages ranged from twenty to twenty-six dollars per month - good compensation for those days; of this, from one-fourth to one-half was payable in cash; the balance in orders on the operators store.

Between 1845 and 1854 fully one-half of the pig metal produced in northwestern Pennsylvania was manufactured in Clarion county, and it deservedly won the name of the "Iron County." From 1856 to 1860 the ratio was about one-third. In 1849 the production was 24,620 tons, in 1856 eighteen furnaces smelted 20,368. Taking the low estimate of twenty as being the average number of furnaces simultaneously in blast during the most prosperous periods of the iron trade, viz.: between 1842 and 1846, and between 1852 and 1858; and averaging the weekly production at twenty-eight tons, or yearly (for a year of forty-five weeks), 1,160, and the price at thirty dollars per ton; Clarion county’s iron exports in those years realized an income of $696,000 per year; in round figures $700,000. Of this we may allow $100,000 to non-resident operators. The most extensive iron manufacturers in Clarion county were Jacob Painter, Samuel F. Plumer, and Lyon, Shorb & Co. Painter resided at Pittsburgh, Plumer at Jefferson furnace, Clarion county, and J. Patton Lyon, of Lyon, Shorb & Co., at Sligo.

Notwithstanding the figures (large for that period) given above, it cannot be said that the operators were uniformly successful, and amassed fortunes. On the contrary, the majority of them failed. The profits realized in prosperous times were not sufficient to tide them over the crises in the trade. Still, the county in general was decidedly the gainer by this industry. It may be said to have developed our resources; it was the means of colonizing waste and rugged spots; it doubled the population, and for some time kept money in beneficial circulation.

The repeal of the tariff of 1842 in July, 1846, was a severe blow to the industry, and one from which it never fully recovered. One of the Clarion papers framed in mourning the news, and the announcement that the bill passed by the deciding vote of George M. Dallas, whose name had always been coupled with the tariff of 1842, in shouting for the ticket. The effects of the repeal were not fully felt till 1850, when a number of Clarion firms succumbed in consequence; and prices dropped from twenty-eight dollars per ton to twenty dollars, which hardly covered cost of production. However, enterprises in which so much money was invested could not be lightly abandoned, and the industry lingered several years "from hand to mouth."

From 1852-54, in consequence of the mania for railroad construction and the extraordinary demand for iron, there was a general revival, and in March, 1854, iron brought the extraordinary figure of forty-two dollars per ton. The panic of 1857 again prostrated the business; many stacks were abandoned; only those having the firmest financial basis stood the ordeal. A second, but transitory revival was created by the war, and from 1862 to 1865 iron commanded "booming" prices. In 1866 and 1867, however, the reaction came, and with it the final decay of furnaces in Clarion county; Madison survived till 1873, Monroe continued making a little iron at intervals till 1882, and Redbank went out of blast in January, 1883.

Of the thirty-one furnaces once flourishing here, and maintaining an industry which immensely increased the population, prosperity and wealth of the county, all-except Redbank and Monroe -are now no more. Some have been leveled to the ground; others remain as ruins, their venerable walls resembling dismantled fortresses; the ivy clad memorials of bright and busy days.

The primary causes of the extinguishments of the iron industry in Clarion county were: 1st, The ill effects of the repeal of the tariff of 1842; 2d, Decline in the price of iron by competition of large coke and anthracite stacks. The following minor incidents conspired to the same end: 3d, Depletion of timber; 4th, Increasing cost of ore from long drifts and hauls. *


1.  Clarion Furnace, cold blast, on the Clarion River, a little west of the mouth of Little Toby, built in 1829; thirty feet high by eight feet bosh; owners Henry Bear and Christian Myers, afterward Myers alone, who in 1851 assigned to Nelson Hetherington. Produced about 1,300 tons a year. Abandoned in 1852 on account of difficulty of reaching ore and financial considerations.

2. Shippenville Furnace, hot blast, at the junction of Deer and Paint Creeks, one mile southeast of Shippenville. Owned by Richard Shippen and Jacob Black; erected, in 1832; managed by Robert Montgomery and David McKim; nine feet across the bosh by thirty-two feet high; production, 1845, about 1,200 tons; 1856, 1,500; abandoned in 1859.

In connection with Shippenville furnace there was a forge-the only one in the county. It stood a mile further down Deer Creek, and made altogether fifty tons of bar iron.

3. Lucinda Furnace, built in 1833, on Paint Creek in Knox township, by James Humes and George B. Hamilton; Humes became sole owner and failed. The furnace was purchased from John F. Steinman, Humes’s assignee, in 1843, by Hon. James Buchanan, afterward president, and John Reynolds, of Cornwall, Lebanon county. They purchased at the same time 4,351 acres in Knox township, consideration $20,500. Buchanan visited the furnace in June, 1843. It was afterwards leased to Reynolds and Nathan Evans; the latter managed it. The iron made at this furnace had a high reputation with mill and foundrymen. The stack was hot blast; eight feet bosh by thirty feet high; produced in 1845 1,200 tons per year; in 1856, about 1,500; abandoned in 1858 on account of low prices and scarcity of timber.

4. Beaver Furnace, 1835, on Deer Creek, two miles from its mouth; steam and water; hot and cold blast, the last blast was hot; nine feet bosh, thirty-three feet high; owned by Long, Blackstone & Co.; output 1845, 1,200 tons; in 1852, 1,500; abandoned in 1854.**

5. Madison Furnace, 1836, steam cold blast, situate on Piney Creek, two miles from the Clarion; nine feet across the bosh; thirty-two feet high; owned originally by Mathiot, Miller & Co., bought by Lyon, Shorb & Co., managed by Thomas McCulloch, Samuel Barr, Calvin Rankin, and M. Conrad; produced, 1845, 1,000 tons; 1856, 2,500 tons of mill metal, out of argillaceous carbonate ores of the coal measures close by; in 1872, made 3,048 tons. Used chills; abandoned, 1873, in consequence of the panic of that year.

6. Jefferson Furnace, 1838, eight feet bosh, thirty feet high; on Beaver Creek at Jefferson Station; built by Arnold Plumer and S.F. Plumer, the latter became sole proprietor; managed by John Haslett. It was run very irregularly; produced, in 1,845, 800 tons; in 1856, about 600 tons of forge metal out of limestone and bog ores; abandoned in 1858, chiefly on account of lack of timber.

7. Clinton Furnace, 1841, on Hemlock Creek, in the extreme northwest corner of Washington township; owned first by Clapp and Seymour; afterward by Samuel F. Plumer, manager, William Hollis; nine and one-half feet across the bosh, thirty-three feet high; production, 1845, 1,000 tons; 1856, 2,000; forge metal, out of fossil buhr-stone and fossil, limestone, lower coal measure ore, mined two miles south of the furnace.

8. Elk ("Smearkase") Furnace, 1842, a small stack on Deer Creek one mile above Deer Creek furnace. First operator, William B. Fetzer, later, Kahl and Call; bosh, seven feet, height, twenty-two feet; production, 1845, about 700 tons; 1854, 400 tons; abandoned in the fall of 1855. At the time of its abandonment its timber was exhausted.

9. Buchanan Furnace, cold blast, 1844, on the north bank of the Clarion River, opposite Callensburg; eight feet across bosh, thirty feet high; owned by Plumer, Crary & Co., S.F. Plumer, F.G. Crary, of Kittanning, and Arnold Plumer, of Franklin. F.G. Crary became sole proprietor about 1857. Averaged 1,200 tons a year; abandoned 1858; its timber was then exhausted.

10. Tippecanoe Furnace, steam cold blast, named after "Tippecanoe and Tyler too;" built in 1844, by Black and Maxwell, and run by King and Maxwell; situated on Canoe Creek, one and one-half miles above Eagle furnace; made, in 1845, 1,000 tons of metal; abandoned in 1851.

11. Mary Ann Furnace, cold blast, 1844, on Paint Creek, at the crossing of the Franklin-Brookville turnpike; built by John Black, Daniel Brenneman, David McKee, and John Thom; sold to John and Adam Black; was eight feet across the bosh; produced in 1846, 1,100 tons of iron; abandoned in 1851.

12. Deer Creek, Furnace, 1844, cold blast, on Deer Creek, at the pike crossing immediately west of Shippenville. First proprietors, Kerr and Hasson, afterwards Mease & Co.; abandoned, 1851.

13. St. Charles Furnace (originally Cocheco), 1844, ten feet across the bosh, thirty-three feet in height; situated on Leatherwood Creek, about two miles from the Low Grade Railroad; built by John and Samuel Wilson; purchased in the spring of 1846 by J. and P. Kerr, of Clarion; leased in 1861 to Michael McCue, who operated it till 1865, when it was dismantled. Hot blast introduced in 1857.

This is the only furnace that employed raw coal, concerning which the Pennsylvania Second Geological Report, for Clarion county, says: "Though essentially a charcoal stack, this furnace was run for one year on coke, made from the Freeport lower coal, and for nearly a year on raw coal from the Freeport upper bed, which in this vicinity is of a ‘block’ character. Innumerable thin layers of mineral charcoal disseminated through the bed, divide the bituminous portion into such thin laminae that any appreciable swelling or melting of the mass is rendered impossible, and each lump preserves its shape until it is entirely consumed." Production, 1845, 1,000 tons; 1850, 2,000 tons.

14. Wildcat Furnace (this was sometimes called Franklin), 1843, steam cold blast; on Wildcat Run, one mile southeast of Rimersburg; seven and one-half feet across the bosh by twenty-eight feet high; built by Flick and Lawson; sold to John L. Miller, of Pittsburgh, and James M. Freeman, of Clarion county. Production of 1845, about 1,000 tons; of 1847, 1,380. Blown out in 1857, but not abandoned till 1863.

15. Black Fox Furnace, 1844, steam hot blast; one mile from Allegheny River on Black Fox Run, Perry township; nine foot bosh, thirty feet high; built by Welsh & Co., subsequently owned by Adams & Varnum (1848), Jones & Co., Joseph M. Thompson, I. M. Boyd and others. They failing in 18850, the furnace was bought at sheriff sale by Jacob Painter and others; Samuel Barr, superintendent. Production, 1845, 1,000 tons; 1856, 2,000 tons. About 1858 the boiler exploded, killing one man and severely injuring several others. The furnace never resumed.

16. Pike Furnace, 1845, steam hot blast, near Wildcat Run, three-fourths of a mile north of Lawsonham; eight foot bosh by thirty feet high; originally built as a cold blast stack. First owned by Lawson, Duff & Orr, afterward owned and managed by Hunter Orr. Production of 1845 period, 1,700 tons; of 1856, about 1,500 tons. Iron made from limestone ore, soft brown and hard blue, in beds which crop out among the coal measures horizontally around the furnace. Suspended in 1858 for a while, blown out in 1868-69; now entirely dismantled.

17. Prospect Furnace, steam cold blast; built in 1845, on Cherry Run, one mile south of Callensburg, by H. Alexander and -- McElroy; bosh eight feet, height, thirty feet; sold to Moore, Painter & Co.; managed by William Moore, one of the company; manufactured in thirty-nine and one-fourth weeks of 1856,1,450 tons of mill-iron out of blue coal measure limestone ore from many banks within three and one-half miles round; abandoned in 1862.

18. Sligo Furnace, 1845, steam cold and hot blast; on Licking Creek near Sligo, in Piney township; owned by Lyon, Shorb & Co.; William Lyon, of Pittsburgh: J.P. Lyon, resident at Sligo, Anthony Shorb, and Thomas McCulloch, of Sligo. The furnace received its name from Sligo, near Pittsburgh, where the company’s iron works were situated; changed to hot blast in 1857; employed chills; produced in 1845 1,500 tons; in 1856, 2,400 tons of rollingmill iron ; abandoned in 1871.

19. Monoe Furnace, cold blast; eight foot bosh, by thirty feet high (inside); on Piney Creek in eastern Monroe township, on the road between Reidsburg and Greenville; original operator, Cochran Fulton, afterwards W.B. Fetzer & Co., now owned by Cochran & Timblin; eight by thirty feet inside; production of 1845, 1,000 tons; of 1855, 1,250. This stack still stands; went finally out of blast in 1882.

20. Limestone Furnace, cold blast; built in 1845 ; eight feet wide across the bosh; situated on Piney Creek in Limestone township; owned by Jacob B. Lyon & Co., and J. Painter, and G.B. Smith; it was abandoned in 1853; produced about 1,000 tons per year.

21. Martha (Polk***) Furnace, 1845; steam cold blast; built by Christian Myers; it lies near Reidsburg, Monroe township; Nelson Hetherington owned and managed it most of the time. It was erected as a successor to Clarion furnace, where ore and timber were growing scarce. Martha furnace was purchased by Lyon, Shorb & Co., but never put in blast by them; timber in its vicinity grew scarce, and the stack was dismantled in 1856. Its approximate production at first was 1,000 tons; in 1854 it made 1,260 tons.

22. Hemlock Furnace, 1845 ; steam cold blast; built by W.B. Fetzer and McGuire; owned later by Homer & Eaton, and finally by F. & W.M. Faber, of Pittsburgh; seven and one-half feet across the bosh; thirty feet high (inside); it was very close to Clinton furnace, on Hemlock; production of 1846, 2,000 tons; 1856, 1,200; abandoned about 1860.

23. Licking Furnace, 1845; cold blast; on Licking Run near Lickingville, Washington township; seven and one-half feet by thirty feet high; owned by Ohler & Co., viz: William Ohler, John G. Seigworth, John Myers, and John Kapp; product of 1846, 1,200 tons; later about 400 tons per annum; abandoned in 1856.

24. Helen Furnace, cold blast; built in 1845, by Robert Barber; eight foot bosh, thirty-two feet high; it was eight miles from Clarion, on the Scotch Hill road. On Barber & Packer’s failure the property for a short time was in the hands of David Richey, and was finally purchased by Samuel Wilson, with whom D. McKim was a partner for a while. Made in twenty-six weeks of 1856 756 tons of iron, from ore mined back of the tunnel head; stopped manufacture in 1856 or ‘57.

25. Catfish Furnace, 1846, steam cold blast; eight feet across the bosh; thirty feet high; built by Over, Reichart and Lobaugh, on the Allegheny, at the mouth of Catfish, who failed in 1851. The property was purchased by Alexander Miller, and leased by J.L. Miller; managed by J.H. Kahl. It made in thirty-three weeks of 1856, 925+ tons of metal from carbonate and red ores, taken from within a mile to the north.

26. Washington Furnace, 1846, steam cold blast; bosh eight and one-half feet; thirty feet high (inside); owned at first by D.B. Long and H. Blackstone; subsequently by Lanier & Co., of New York; production of 1846, 1,000 tons; blew out in the spring of 1855, having made 706 tons that year; Washington furnace stood on the southwest corner of Clarion township, a little north of Monroe.

27. Richland Furnace, 1846, steam cold blast; built by John Keating, of Philadelphia; J. Vensel had an interest in the business for a while; eight foot bosh; thirty feet high; it is situated on a small branch of Turkey Run, in Richland township; made in 1854, ‘55, and ‘56, an average of 550 tons per year.

28. Eagle Furnace, cold blast, 1846; on Canoe Creek, a mile from the Clarion River; was eight feet in bosh by thirty feet high ; built by Kribbs, Reynolds & Curll; operated by George Kribbs and Joseph B. Reynolds; produced from 700 to 800 tons per annum; abandoned in 1858.

29. Corsica Furnace (formerly Mt. Pleasant), built in 1849, by G.W. Corbet, Solomon Cyphert, and George Reynolds; sold in 1850, to Gates & Co., of Kittanning, who in turn sold it to J.P. Brown; eight feet across the bosh; thirty feet high; situate in Clarion township, northwest of Corsica, and a little north of the pike; made about 500 tons yearly out of ore close by.

30. Redbank Furnace, at the mouth of Redbank; built by Thomas McCulloch, formerly of Lyon, Shorb & Co., in 1859; Alexander Reynolds shortly became a partner; McCulloch was replaced by Moorhead, and the firm became Reynolds & Moorhead. This stack was a successor to the old Redbank furnace across the creek in Armstrong county. The first stack on the present site of Redbank furnace was thirty-nine feet high, and eleven feet across the bosh; since it has been raised to a height of sixty-four feet, and its equipments have been much improved and modernized. The old furnace used coke made in pits, and produced an average of ninety-five tons a week; at present there are forty coke ovens in connection with the plant, and the capacity is 150 tons of metal per week.

The ore, coal, and limestone are all found together on the river hillside above the furnace, and are carried down an inclined plane tramway to the terrace or yard. The coal is prepared for coking by a machine capable of crushing and washing eighty tons per day. The hearth is of flagstone, and the tunnel mouth has a "bell and hopper" cover; the gases are conducted down a pipe called the "down-corner," and distributed between the boiler and hot-blast. An upright engine 225 horse power, sixty feet pressure, and five feet stroke forces the air into the hot-blast and fan, and thence to the furnace; there are six boilers in a "double-decked battery," three feet wide, and thirty and forty-four feet in length.

Redbank Furnace, from the hands of Reynolds & Moorhead, passed into those of Alexander Reynolds, and finally to Alexander Reynolds’s Sons, the present proprietors. It suspended operations in January, 1883, but is expected (February, 1887) to resume in a few months.

31. Sarah Furnace was completed in 1860; erected by S.F. Plumer after his retirement from Prospect. It took its name from the wife of the proprietor. Sarah furnace stood on the Allegheny, at the bottom of the bend, about one mile above Catfish; it used coke as fuel. Passed into the hands of Jennings, Morey & Co., and was abandoned about 1867.

* In connection with the iron industry it is proper to mention here the almost forgotten fact that Clarion was once a shipping point, to which the forges in the central part of the State sent their bar iron to be transported by water to Pittsburgh and the West. For this purpose Isaac Corbett built a wharf and warehouse at "Warehouse Riffle," a few hundred yards above the pump station. This traffic was tarried on between 1830 and ’35; the iron being hauled from Bellefonte by contractors living in Clarion county, the owners, Shippen, Black, and others.

** While in the Legislature Mr. D.B. Long, one of the firm, procured the passage of an act, forbidding the sale of intoxicating liquors within a radius of three miles from this furnace.

*** Judge Myers, the first proprietor, was an enthusiastic Polk man, and called his furnace after him. When the tariff of ‘42 was repealed, and the change sanctioned by President Polk, Myers became disgusted and would not suffer the furnace to longer bear his name. He therefore re-christened it after his wife, Martha.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 112-121, History of Clarion County, A.J. Davis, A.J.; Syracuse, N.Y.: D. Mason & Co. 1887