Iron Furnaces was once the backbone of Lawrence County’s economy. Around 1900, the Hanging Rock Iron Region of southern Ohio and northern Kentucky produced most of the iron in the United States. More than one person’s fortune was made and lost to the iron industry.
     Iron furnaces were not just places to work. They were also places to live and socialize. Families lived in the communities surrounding the furnaces. The furnace owner had a company store where employees and other local people could buy whatever they could afford.
     Whenever you visit an iron furnace, remember than many people live, worked and died there. Furnaces were operating twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. The workers had hot, dirty, and hard work and received little money. Often they barely made enough money to pay for their supplies needed to work. Much like the coal miners, furnace workers often ended up owing more money to their employers than they made. They were often paid in script that could only be used at the company store which had inflated prices to guarantee more debt. Regardless of the hardships, iron workers did have steady income and jobs.
     The furnace owner, however, could make a fortune if they knew what they were doing. Some of the America’s wealthiest people of the age were industry owners. Their money helped build Ironton and its surrounding area.
     Some of the furnaces operating in our area were Center, Etna, Hecla, Lawrence, Oak Ridge, Olive, Washington, Buckhorn, Vesuvius, La Grange, and Pioneer.

To Left: Center Furnace

    Center Furnace was built in 1836 in Lawrence County, Ohio by William Carpenter and others. It had a 16 ton capacity and the stack was 40 feet tall. It is believed the furnace was sold to William D. Kelly in 1862, but so far no records have been found on the sell.

 

To Right: Etna Furnace
     Built by James Rodgers and others in 1832, Etna Furnace had a 16 ton capacity. Etna Furnace stopped producing charcoal in 1887 when possible financial difficulties resulted in closing the furnace.
     The builder is a well known historical figure in Lawrence County. He with Mr. Meaks, John Sparks, and Valentine Fear built the first furnace on the Ohio side of the river in 1826. Rodgers went on to build and run Etna Furnace until a few weeks before his death in June, 1860. He was also the president of the Iron Bank and Lawrence Rolling Mill, a state senator representing Lawrence, Gallia, Athens and Meigs Counties in 1837, and he held other public offices.
To Left: Hecla Furnace
     Hamilton & McCoy built the Hecla Furnace in 1833. With a capacity of 10 tons, the furnace operated until 1897. In 1828, Robert Hamilton of Hamilton & McCoy opened the Pine Grove Furnace. It was a Pine Grove that Hamilton made history. Convinced iron was one of God’s creations for the use of man, Hamilton decided to respect God’s commands and close on the Sabbath Day. This practice was not common in 1844 and continued at the Pine Grove Furnace until it closed in 1897 even though Hamilton was no longer it’s proprietor.
To Right: Lawrence Furnace
     In 1834 Lawrence Furnace, also known as Crane’s Nest Furnace, was built by J. Riggs and Co. The furnace has a 40 foot stack and a capacity of 15 tons. J. Riggs and Co. included Joseph Riggs, Andrew Ellison, Robert Hamilton, James Rodgers, and Dyer Burgess. John Campbell was the superintendent during construction of the furnace and loaned the company $1,500 during the construction of the furnace.
To Right: Oak Ridge Furnace
     This 15 ton furnace with a 44 foot stack was built by H. Allison in 1856. John Thompson was believed to have started the foundation, and General O. M. Mitchell was part owner. The furnace is relatively good condition possibly because it only operated for one year.
     Today the furnace is located on private property. To view the furnace, take route 141 to Aid, Ohio. Turn left onto County Road 8 north of Aid. Follow County Road 8 until it dead ends onto County Road 5. Take the left hand fork. The furnace is on your right a few miles down the road.
To Left: Olive Furnace
     Built by John Campbell and John Peters in 1846, Olive Furnace features a unique arch. This was not the only time Peters and Campbell worked together. In 1848, Joames O. Willard, Peters and Campbell bought land together to build a railroad and a town at Hanging Rock.
To Left: Washington Furnace
     Washington Furnace could produce seven to eight tons per day and a capacity of 17 tons. In 1853, the furnace was superintended by John Peters. John Peters was the son of Henry and Rebecca (Wilhelm) Peters. Peters moved to Ohio in 1830’s. He was one of the people who helped layout Ironton and built the Iron Railroad.  He also worked in Monroe, Pine Grove, Vernon, Greenup, Honeywell and other furnaces.  
To Left: Buckhorn Furnace
     James and Findley built Buckhorn furnace in 1833. The furnace had a capacity of 15 tons. In 1899, John Peters, builder of the Washington Furnace, was the manager. Although damaged when the surrounding area was strip mined, the furnace still stands today.
To Right: Vesuvius Furnace
     Named for an Italian Volcano, Vesuvius Furnace is probably one of the better known furnaces in the area. Built in 1833, Vesuvius was directed by William Firmstone. During its operation, the furnace employed a hundred workers, produced eight to twelve tons per day and three thousand tons per year. It is a recognized as a historical site located in Vesuvius State Park. In 1991, a roof was added to the existing structure to prevent further damage. You can, also, other information at Old Industry website, Ironton Furnaces website and the Ohio Underground RailRoad Association.
To Right: La Grange Furnace
     La Grange was built in 1836 by Hurd, Gould & Co. Its production capacity was seven tons.
To Left: Pioneer Furnace
     Located in Scioto County, Ohio, Pioneer Furnace was built in 1856 by W. Colvin, U. Tracy & Others. Pioneer could produce 12 tons and had a stack of 45 feet. This furnace was one of the first that used stone coal as a fuel for the furnace.
     According to the Aggregate Statistics of 1840, Ohio had 72 furnaces, produced 35,236 tons of cast iron, consumed 104,312 tons of fuel, and 2,268 men employed in the field. If you would like more information on the Iron Furnaces, visit our Phyllis Hamner Room.