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I Forge Iron

Visit to Historic Furnaces of LBL

Red Shed Forge

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While visiting the in-laws in Kentucky this weekend for Christmas break, my father-in-law told me he found something in his yard that sparked a memory of a trip he and his family took about 25 years ago. He handed me a glassy blue and brown chunk of material that looked like some kind of pretty rock at first glance. It was iron ore slag from the furnaces at Land Between the Lakes just down the road; years ago he let his kids take a couple handfuls from a creek bed near their campsite, not knowing that such an act is forbidden as they are considered historical items of the area! Wouldn't have done it had he known, he says. 

The slag and a little internet research of course peaked my interest to the point that I HAD to see these furnaces that stood just 35 minutes down the road. We hopped in the truck, crossed the bridge into LBL and over the TN state line to see the first of 2 remaining furnaces, the Great Western Furnace. This one was only in operation for 2 years, 1854-1856, but in its heyday the region had 8 furnaces in operation. It stood 40' high and 10' wide inside, required 2,000 bushels of charcoal (2 weeks of labor) to produce pig iron for a mere 24 hour period. Fascinating. We also saw the site of the Center Furnace ruins and a replica charcoal hearth and a couple other gems about 20 minutes down the road from the Great Western. 

Here are some pictures of the visit. In order of appearance: Great Western Furnace, Center Furnace and charcoal hearth. There is some good information on the history of the area and the furnaces on the Land Between the Lakes website if anyone is interested in learning more. 



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We toured the old furnaces in the Hanging Rock region along the Ohio river as part of an Ironmasters conference held in Athens Ohio. (Last one went out of blast around WWI.) A couple of the furnaces were conserved but a lot more were "hidden" in the woods; one of them still had the charging ramp over a beautiful masonry arch still in existence but s there was a 6-8" tree growing on the ramp I expect when the tree fell the ramp would get destroyed.  One of the interesting tidbits was that the iron smelting companies owned their coaling forests each furnace using a square mile of wood a year.  They owned enough forest that by the time they ran out of wood, it was time to start over at the beginning, it having had 30 years or so to regrow.  When the iron smelting stopped the paper companies bought up the forests and then they were finally turned into large state parks.  So the rapacious iron industry actually helped to preserve the large empty spaces---no developments in them! , until they could be appreciated and preserved.

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