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In the mid-19th Century, just after Clarion County formed, iron production became the area's largest economic factor.  Within 75 years, however, the industry had dwindled to nothing.

From Caldwell's Illustrated Historical Combination Atlas of Clarion Co., Pennsylvania, published by J. A. Caldwell, 1877.

The iron business was commenced here about 1830.  Shippen, Black, Hamilton, Humes, and Judge Myers were the pioneers.

At one time twenty-seven or twenty-eight* furnaces were in full operation, making nearly, if not entirely, 40,000 tons of iron yearly.  It was then called the "iron county."  These furnaces were all run with charcoal and made a superior quality of metal; but all have ceased operations, and many have disappeared, so that no vestige of them remains except large piles of cinders that centuries will hardly obliterate.

The iron was sent down the Clarion and Allegheny rivers to Pittsburgh.

The iron business in Clarion County has permanently gone down; the furnaces in the east and west cannot be competed with here.  The business did not afford much profit to the operators, as a rule, but it did much to clear out and bring population to the county.

*At another point in the text, there is a list that contains 34 furnaces.  There is also a statement that the production was about fifty-five thousand tons annually.

From "Christian Myers, Migrant Iron Master and Founder of Clarion County,", published in the Western Pennsylvania Genealogical Society Journal, date not noted.

Christian Myers migrated to Clarion County from his native county, Lancaster.  He purchased a tract of land from the Holland Land Company and heard tales of "vast beds of underlying iron ore."  Deciding to view the tract, Myers left home in 1826, accompanied by his friend, ironmaster Henry Bear.  They travelled by horseback and arrived on the Clarion River in 1828.  Bear and Myers built the first iron furnace in the county in 1828.  They named it Clarion, after the river.  Bear designed the furnace; subsequent furnaces followed his design.

The furnaces were "of rough stone, dressed at the edges and keyed with wooden cross beams."  They were 30 feet high, and the stack measured 24 feet square at the base.  The inside of the furnace was lined with fire brick.  Charcoal was used to fuel the furnace; coke was later used.

"Ore was mined from drifts or banks.  ... Furnaces produced 15-25 tons of pig iron per week at the beginning"; later they produced up to 50 tons per week.  The iron was sent down river to Pittsburgh on flat-bottomed boats.  The boats were not returned; they were sold in Pittsburgh.

Pigs (iron ingots) were loaded at Clarion, Hahn's Ferry (Piney), Callensburg, and Redbank.  Hundreds of men were required to load boats at each location.

"The larger furnaces, such as Lucinda, Madison, and Shippenville, employed from 75-100 hands.  The smaller ones, such as Washington, Wildcat, and Mary Ann, from 25-50.  The men were miners, teamsters, woodchoppers, charcoal burners, and furnacemen.  Their wages ranged from $20-26 per month.  One quarter of a man's wages was usually paid to him in cash; the balance in orders on the company's store.

"Between 1845 and 1854, more than half of all the iron made in northwest Pennsylvania was manufactured in Clarion County."

From History of Clarion County. Unknown compiler; published circa 1976.

[Most of it credited to Davis' History of Clarion County, published 1887.]

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 crossbeams.  The interior of the stack was lined with fire brick, which required replacement about every two years.  For this purpose, an entrance was left in front of the furnace.  The entrance was kept walled-up while the furnace was in blast.  The "bosh" was the widest part of the interior, or hearth.

Charcoal was the basis of iron manufacture in Clarion County.  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.

[Note:  The use of charcoal was responsible for the depletion of timber in the immediate vicinity of many furnaces.]

The ore was mined generally from drifts or banks.  Sometimes, when it lay near a level surface, open excavations were 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, the ore was wheeled on a bridge to the mouth of the furnace, or "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 the supervisor was called the "founder."  The blast, cold or hot, was forced into one or more apertures in the sides ("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 -- into the moulds.

Production of one ton of iron required three and one-half tons of ore, using about 500 pounds of limestone as flux.  The furnaces at first produced from 15 to 25 tons of pig metal a week, 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 as fuel. It was made in pits at their own yards.

The Sligo and Madison Company was the only one to introduce "chills" (iron moulds).  All the other furnaces ran their metal into sand.  [Note:  the result produced a crude form of glass as a by-product.]

The pigs (iron ingots) were transported to Pittsburgh in flat boats, sided up.  They were somewhat smaller than the present boats and generally held from 75 to 100 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 100 men were at work together, loading the boats.  Beaver Furnace and Madison loaded at Hahn's Ferry at the mouth of Piney.  The wharf at Callensburg was the loading point.  Manufacturers in Clarion County were Jacob Painter, Samuel F. Plumer, and Lyon, Shork & Company.  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.  The effects of the repeal were not fully felt until 1850, when a number of Clarion firms succumbed in consequence.

From 1852 to 1854, in consequence of the mania for railroad construction and the extraordinary demand for iron, there was a general revival.  In March, 1854, iron brought the fantastic price of $42 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, the decay of furnaces survived until 1873.  Monroe Furnace continued making a little iron at intervals until 1882, and Redbank Furnace went out of blast in January, 1883.

The primary causes of the extinguishment of the iron industry in Clarion County were

  • the ill effects of the repeal of the tariff of 1842;
  • decline in the price of iron by competition of large coke and anthracite stacks;
  • depletion of timber; and,
  • increasing cost of ore from long drifts and hauls.

Of the 31 furnaces once flourishing here and maintaining an industry, which immensely increased the population, prosperity, and wealth of the county, all, except Redbank and Monroe furnaces are now no more.  Some have been leveled to the ground.  Others remain as ruins, their venerable walls resembling dismantled fortresses.  They are ivy-clad memorials of bright and busy days.

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