Catoctin Mountain Park
Historic Resource Study
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Chapter Two:
War and Industry on the Mountain (continued)

Wheat and Whisky

If an early industrial revolution was taking hold east of the mountains, a simpler agricultural economy centered around hunting, the harvesting of wheat, and raising a small number of livestock, persisted on the west side of the mountain. With no agricultural census until mid-century, records relating to the local agricultural economy are sparse for this period. Nevertheless, what evidence we have suggests a subsistence economy where barter more than cash was the basis for most transactions. Of key importance was the exchange of whiskey, brandy, and hides.

The center of the mountain economy was a tavern—which still stands--on the southeast side of Manahan Road in present-day Foxville (see Map 2). Labeled Wolfe's Tavern on an 1873 map of Frederick County, the two-story, log and frame building sheathed in German siding dates from around 1800. [44] Throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, the Hauver family operated the tavern. The Hauvers --following the much-traveled route of German migrants to America--first settled in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, then, by the 1760s, moved to Frederick County, settling on the west side of Catoctin Mountain. The family briefly changed its name to Oates in the late eighteenth century, apparently feeling that Hauver sounded too German. In 1779, the Oates\Hauver family purchased a tract of land known as "Good Luck" on which they built their tavern. Situated on the road to Hagerstown, the tavern could take advantage of business from both the local community and travelers.

The tavern served multiple functions. The ever-increasing number of migrants moving west found a night's sleep and something to eat at the tavern. With politics an increasingly important part of the new nation, the tavern served as a polling place and local court house. [45] For nearby farmers, it served as a general store at which to buy needed supplies such as salt, butter, cornmeal, and coffee. It provided needed services such as shovel sharpening. Most importantly, the tavern offered farmers and trappers a trading post through which to exchange goods. Farmers, for instance, could exchange cow hides for whiskey. The Hauvers often would sell the hides they obtained to Daniel Rouzer for use in his tannery. Lumber was an important commodity and farmers could make staves from wood processed at the many sawmills in the region. The Hauvers bought staves by the thousands and resold them to businesses in Mechanicstown. [46]

Operating on a system of credit and counter credit, the primary product sold by the tavern was whiskey, and secondarily brandy. A product of the abundant wheat grown in the area, whiskey offered obvious advantages. In an area like the Catoctin mountains--with no nearby source of water transportation, and railroads still many years off--whiskey could be shipped at a significantly lower cost than wheat. The nation, in the early nineteenth century, had an insatiable thirst for alcohol, leading one historian to dub the new country the "alcoholic republic." [47] While it is impossible to determine the amount of alcohol consumed by local farmers, they did purchase a great deal of whiskey and brandy from the local tavern. Some of the whiskey, no doubt, was resold. Some may even have been used in place of hard-to-come-by currency. [48] Whatever the case, Wolfe's Tavern sold close to one hundred gallons of whiskey on a monthly basis. In the month of November 1820, for instance, local farmer John Wiant purchased six gallons of whiskey, one gallon of brandy, and a half bushel of salt from the tavern. In return, he appears to have sold the tavern one twenty-three pound hide.

Two farmers who owned mountain tracts, later incorporated into the park, appear with some regularity in the records of the tavern. Yost Wiant, whose name or whose son's name appears on early maps of the region as owner of a significant plot of mountain-top land, was a colorful character, who, according to local legend, kept wild hogs on a portion of his holdings. It was that area that became known as "Hog's Rock." [49] Wiant mainly purchased alcohol from the tavern, occasionally selling a hide or calfskin in return. His purchases for the first several months of 1821 appear in the Wolfe's Tavern ledger as follows:

January 15, 1821

one gallon of wiskey [whiskey]
one quart of brandy
one quart of brandy

January 20, 1821

two quarts of cider
two gallons of brandy
Carage for butter
two gallons of wiskey

March 3, 1821

two gallons of wiskey
tow gallon is wiskey
one gallon of wiskey

March 10, 1821

two gallons of wiskey

March 17, 1821

two gall of wiskey
one quart of wiskey
one quart of cidrile[?]
one pint two gall of wisky
two gallons of wiskey
two gallons of brandy

April 10, 1821

one shovel plow at bars
one quart cidrila [?]

Another prominent farmer whose family played a major role in the development of the area and later acquisition of the park was Archibald McAffee. Settling on a large tract surrounding Cunningham Falls, McAffee's descendants retained ownership of the land until they sold it to the government in the 1930s. Like Wiant, McAffee (whose name is spelled Archibald Mackffe in the tavern ledger) used the local tavern primarily to purchase and trade for whiskey. For instance in March 1819 he purchased the following:

one quart of wiskey
one half pint of wine one sling
three half points of wiskey
two gallons of wine
two gallons of wiskey
three gallons of wine

In return for the alcohol, McAffee appears to have paid cash and traded horse shoes.

Compared to the rapid development of industry in western Maryland and throughout the country, agriculture saw few advances and the beginnings of some setbacks. Observers noted the first signs of soil exhaustion and lower yields. The Hessian fly, a costly remnant of the Revolutionary War, also ravaged crops. Although roads improved and new efforts to build canals and railroads generated excitement, transportation networks generally remained primitive in the area. [50] It was thus industry rather than agriculture that generated the great changes of the times.

Catoctin Furnace From the Top Down

During the late eighteenth century, the iron furnace at Catoctin prospered as one of the many business interests under the ownership of the Johnson family. In 1787, the brothers rebuilt the furnace entirely, moving it roughly three quarters of a mile up Little Hunting Creek to its present site (See Appendix 1). The new furnace continued to operate with one stack, producing an estimated 900 tons of iron per annum. [51] That same year the Johnsons also added another furnace located at the mouth of the Monocacy to their growing domain. [52]

By the early 1790s, the diverse interests of the Johnson family were proving too extensive to be jointly managed by the four brothers. In 1793, the Johnsons, therefore, divided up their jointly-held enterprises. [53] The Catoctin furnace, which previously had been under the supervision of James Johnson, now shifted to the former governor, Thomas, and his younger brother Baker (1749-1811). It was Baker who took the greatest interest in Catoctin. The younger Johnson acquired his brother's half share in 1802, becoming sole owner of the furnace.

Around 1805, Baker constructed for himself a handsome home, slightly west of the furnace, which he called "Auburn." [54] Apparently not an iron master himself, Johnson leased the land to Benjamin Blackford of New Jersey, who operated the furnace for almost a decade. [55] During the Blackford period, Baker Johnson continued to improve upon his industrial holding.

When Baker died in 1811, Catoctin Furnace went up for public sale, as instructed in his will. Newspapers from around the country carried lengthy announcements, advertising the merits of the furnace. Promising a public auction if the property failed to generate a private buyer, the site was advertised as "consisting of a large blast furnace-the stack, wheel and bellows, and all the buildings of the furnace are built in the best manner are in complete order." A considerable amount of land, about 4,611 acres, accompanied the furnace. Between 600 and 700 acres consisted of "arable land, and about 60 acres sat as meadow, a great part is well set with timothy." The land, the newspaper ads explained, "is well covered with wood and young timber, and is deemed sufficient to furnish coal wood for the furnace for many years." Iron ore found near the furnace "is easily raised and the Bank apparently inexhaustible." Likewise a "limestone quarry is also very convenient not more than 200 yards from the furnace bank." Other attractions included the master's house, a large two-story stone building, with "necessary out-houses," fountain pump at the kitchen door, and two store houses. Also included was a chopping mill, a stone blacksmith shop, barns, stables, and corn houses. The Catoctin Furnace apparently had taken on something of a company-town look, and a successful buyer would also acquire "from 15 to 20 houses for the accommodation of workmen, all in good order" (see Appendix 2 and 3) [56]

The executors of Johnson's will eventually sold the furnace to Thomas and Wiloughby Mayberry of Philadelphia. [57] The Johnson family, however, remained an active presence in the area. Baker Johnson, Jr., continued to live at Auburn House, for several decades. [58]

The Mayberry brothers enjoyed initial success with their new investment. With the United States desperately trying to avoid involvement in a war between France and Britain, President Thomas Jefferson declared a trade embargo against both belligerents. Spurred by the cut-off of foreign competition, American industry thrived. The subsequent War of 1812, although disruptive, especially in Washington and Baltimore, led to an economic boom in areas less affected by the war. But with the cessation of hostilities in 1815, British iron again flowed into the country. The Panic of 1819--the most severe economic downturn in the history of the young country--then virtually decimated the iron production business, and the Mayberrys went bankrupt. [59]

At a sheriff's auction on May 2, 1820, Colonel John McPherson, Jr., and his business partner and brother-in-law John Brien, who together already owned an iron furnace in Antietam, purchased Catoctin. [60] By the 1820 sale the Catoctin Furnace land holdings had expanded somewhat to include 5,000 acres on which sat "a blast furnace with a commodious casting-house and pot-houses, sufficiently large for sixteen moulders, built of stone, office and store houses, coal house, two blacksmith's shops, a large ware house, and stables for four teams; chopping, stamping and saw-mills, all in complete order." Twenty-two houses "for workmen" now adorned the property, as did the two-story, stone master's house, a large stone smoke house, a milk house, and an ice house. The sale also included two mountain tracts, "considered the most valuable on the Catoctin mt [sic] being covered with fine second growth chestnut." On one of the mountain tracts sat a two-story stone house, and the other a "log dwelling." [61] But the thirty-three-year-old site had aged and had been closed for at least for several months. After the purchase, Brien reported to the Census of Manufactures that Catoctin was an "Old Establishment in need of repairs. Now repairing it." [62]

The sale represented something of a homecoming for the furnace, since John McPherson Jr.'s wife was the granddaughter of Governor Thomas Johnson. Likewise McPherson was no stranger to the iron manufacturing business. His father, John, Sr., was an "iron master," and his sons, explained a family friend in 1809, "wished to adventure the same way." [63] John Brien also had a background intimately linked to iron production. Born in County Tyrone, Ireland, Brien, along with his two brothers, followed an uncle to America and into the iron business. The Brien brothers worked in iron furnaces in Pennsylvania, gradually accumulating enough money to purchase a furnace named Spring Grove. In 1804, John Brien married, Harriet, the daughter of "iron master" John McPherson, Sr. [64]

Brien and McPherson were dedicated to their investment. They added some 3,000 acres to the furnace holdings, built a grist mill, enlarged the furnace stack, and increased capacity. [65] The furnace began to cast ten-plate stoves, capable of burning full-length cord wood, which carried the inscription "McPherson and Brien, Catoctin Furnace." [66] Meanwhile, as the railroad revolution began to take hold, the demand for iron rose. [67]

The mid-1820s also brought something of an educational turn to the furnace area. In 1825, Baker Johnson, Jr., son of the former furnace owner, "at the solicitation of several of the citizens of Frederick and the vicinity . . .consented to open his large and commous house at Auburn for the receivership of boys to be instructed in all those branches of education necessary to prepare them for the higher classes of college." The boarding school, called Auburn Academy, consisted of 20 students, instructed by a Mr. Peers,"a gentlemen in every respect." Advertisements for the school, stressed the mountain atmosphere (rather than the nearby burning iron furnace operated by slaves): "a high and healthy situation, commending all the advantages of pure air and fine water." [68]

The school does not appear to have operated for more than two years. In 1827, John Brien purchased and moved into Auburn house. [69] Two years later his business partner, John McPherson, Jr., died. In 1834, Brien himself died while recovering from an illness at a health resort in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania. [70] Within a couple of years, Brien's son, John McPherson Brien, managed to purchase the furnace from his father's estate, but, with the panic of 1837, the economy again collapsed, and the furnace operated only sporadically for the next couple of years.

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Last Updated: 21-Nov-2003