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Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site
Visit Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site today and you find yourself surrounded by tranquil sounds of nature, picturesque views, and charming historic buildings. Travel back 125 years and it’s a vastly different scene – charcoal dust covers everything, the smell of sulfur hangs heavy in the air, and the noise of the workers fills the village. From 1771-1883 the nearly self-sufficient Hopewell Village relied upon its dirty, smelly, and loud iron furnace for survival.
Southeastern Pennsylvania proved abundant in the natural resources required to produce iron. Three local mines supplied high quality iron ore. Limestone lay on the surface of the land, and trees provided the wood to make charcoal. With all the essential ingredients at hand, Hopewell Furnace, powered by a huge water wheel, went into blast for the first time in 1771. Workers produced iron cannons, shot, and shell for the Continental Army and Navy during the American Revolution. Furnace owner Mark Bird even provided desperately needed food to George Washington’s army at Valley Forge.
Hopewell’s fame came from its cast iron Hopewell Stove, which was a huge financial and cultural success. In 1839, Hopewell produced more than 5,000 of them! The stove allowed women more time out of the kitchen to pursue other activities. It demanded much less attention than the open hearth fireplaces that preceded them and their cleanliness reduced housecleaning time.
In honor of Women’s History Month, Hopewell recognizes the importance of the iron stove in women’s history with a one-act play, “From Out the Fiery Furnace,” written by nationally recognized playwright Christine Emmert. In the play, Barbara Hannevig portrays a Hopewell woman whose daily life changes more than we might imagine because of the stove. Hannevig introduces many other 19th century characters, from runaway slaves to orphaned children, who all influenced her life. See the play at the park’s historic Church House on March 13 and 20, 2010 at 1 p.m.
Year round, you can see a film, check out the exhibits in our museum, talk with a ranger, and shop at our bookstore. Take a self-guided tour and experience “Voices of Hopewell,” an audio program that brings to life the villagers who lived and worked here. Kids will enjoy participating in the Junior Ranger Program and visiting our flock of sheep and our horses, Cluey and Maude.
During the summer, the park comes alive. See sand molding and casting for the famous stoves. Stop by the Village Store to talk with the clerk and browse the wares. There are many special events during the year including Sheep Shearing Day, Harvest Time, and an Iron Plantation Christmas. Feel like getting in touch with nature? You will enjoy the hiking trails that run throughout the park and neighboring French Creek State Park.
While you’re here, extend your getaway to national parks in the area including Valley Forge and Independence national historical parks and Edgar Allan Poe National Historic Site. Hopewell Furnace’s visitor center and historic buildings are open Wednesday through Sunday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; the grounds are open every day. Don’t miss Hopewell Furnace – you will have a blast!
By Crystal Williams, visitor use assistant, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site