Appalachian Cultural Resources Workshop Papers
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From the 1790s until the 1930s, the iron industry was often the only reason for the establishment and continued growth of communities on the Western Highland Rim of Tennessee. As the primary economic force in the region, when the industry ceased production, the development of nearby communities generally slowed or ceased altogether. The history of the industry presented an area with a known geographic limit (the Western Highland Rim, a physiographic region of Tennessee), with the theme of iron manufacturing, and with a definable time span (the 1790s until the 1930s). Using these limits, the Division of Archaeology conducted a survey and prepared a survey report that included both historic archaeological sites and standing buildings and structures associated with the iron industry. The Tennessee Historical Commission prepared a multiple property nomination on the iron industry. Determining manageable property types, assessing registration requirements, and establishing boundaries were some of the principal evaluation questions that occurred during the project survey.

In 1976 and 1980, surveys of iron resources in the Central Basin and upper East Tennessee were undertaken. These surveys provided background information on the industry and pointed to the sixteen counties of the Western Highland Rim as being the region most likely to have extant iron resources. The decision to do an intensive survey on the Western Highland Rim was based on the results of the previous surveys and guidelines for survey and study units prepared by the National Register Program, National Park Service.

In 1984 a grant for thirty thousand dollars was awarded to the Division of Archaeology. The survey would look primarily at sites, but it also would include built resources. This was a different approach—usually archaeological sites and standing buildings were surveyed separately. The survey report (published in 1988) contains information on the history and technology of the industry, geographic and geologic information, brief histories of the resources, recommendations for the National Register, and appendices such as a company log and surveyed cemeteries in the region. The report was used as the basis of the nomination.

Buildings were the primary unknown at the start of the survey and the nomination. The thirty-seven buildings initially surveyed were located by their proximity to industrial sites, information from area residents, library research, and records of previously surveyed or listed buildings. For the industrial sites, the focus was on furnace and forge sites, although ore mines were also examined. Seventy-five sites were recorded and sixteen more were thought to exist, although no physical evidence of them was found. Two hundred seventy-nine abandoned ore mines were located on maps, but since they were difficult to reach, only ten were surveyed. There was more information on the sites than had been expected. Geologic maps and publications, censuses, manufacturing lists and censuses were invaluable sources.

In 1987 the Tennessee Historical Commission and the Division of Archaeology began re-surveying some of the sites and buildings for a proposed National Register nomination. All of the potentially eligible industrial sites and those whose eligibility was questionable or had been inaccessible during the initial survey were looked at for site integrity and potential National Register boundaries. All of the buildings were re-surveyed. The original survey concentrated on buildings that were company-built or representative examples of iron-industry housing. For the re-survey, it was determined that all buildings in the survey area that were constructed during the period of significance should be re-surveyed. As a result of this, approximately fifteen to twenty additional buildings were surveyed in Cumberland Furnace and the Clarksville Foundry complex was surveyed. The re-survey also discovered that two residences in the community of Rockdale had been torn down since 1984. The home of A.H. Patch, who patented a corn sheller and built a foundry to manufacture it, was demolished during the re-survey. The re-survey involved three people going on thirteen field trips, or about three hundred hours of work.


Using the data from the survey report, three categories of property types were chosen to be broad enough to cover all of the expected resources. These were processing, community, and extractive resources. If the property types are more specific, such as a separate type for furnaces, forges, worker housing, commercial buildings, etc., it becomes too time consuming to do the nomination. Once we begin to evaluate properties, there is too much repetition of information for registration requirements and statements of significance because the processes are so closely related.

For all three property types, the common associative characteristics were more important than having similar physical features. This was especially true for the extant buildings. The link or common associative feature for the processing resources was that they had to have been part of the process of ore production or refining. This group included furnaces, forges, and foundries. Physical features included standing buildings, the remains of furnace stacks and charging pylons, dam remains, or cribbing.

Community resources were comprised of properties as diverse as worker housing from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, manager housing, ironmasters' homes, commercial buildings, a depot, churches, and cemeteries. The link was that all were built during the time the iron industry was active.

Extractive resources should all have been used in the iron manufacturing process and they needed to be situated near the processing sites. This group contained ore mines, quarries, and ore beds.


Registration requirements set the parameters for what was considered eligible. For example, although the survey went through the 1930s, in the 1920s there was a change in technology when iron production became secondary to the manufacture of wood by products. Sites that were built during this time and for this reason were not considered for this nomination. The Warner-Wrigley site fell into this category and therefore was not nominated. It represents a different era of the industry and might be eligible under a different theme or context.

For the processing sites, one of the primary site features required was the remains of furnace stacks or building foundations. This tells us where the primary activity occurred. Another prominent feature was slag or dross, by-products of furnaces and forges. Slag type and color tells us various things about the furnace operation, such as the temperature of blast, minerals in ores, or whether it was coke or coal fueled. No site testing was done since it was believed that historic documentation and extant surface remains were sufficient to determine site integrity and potential for information.

Physical features water source, hillside near stack, or simply undisturbed land where the potential for sub-surface remains appeared good were also important. These features added to site integrity, yet it is important to remember these rural and isolated sites were once industrial complexes.

Processing resources were primarily eligible as historic archaeological sites for their research potential. A great deal of information was known about the development of the iron industry, so research questions dealt with its demise. These sites can also be eligible for their historic significance in industry or for their engineering or artistic value when much of stack is extant. One furnace, Bear Spring, is important for all of these reasons since it retains much of its stack and charging pylon. It also has carved designs depicting a bear, powder horn, rifle, and the names of the owners and architect.

Extant buildings were generally significant because of their historic association with the iron industry or their design. Buildings were relatively rare, so numerous changes were considered acceptable as long as most materials, location, and association were strong. For example, when looking at ironmasters' roles in the industry, we knew that operations were family owned or owned by small groups of investors.

For a building to be eligible because of its association with an important person, that individual had to be actively involved in the industry and not be just an investor. Due to the rarity of built resources, this association can be brief as long as the ironmaster lived in the house when he was active in the industry and when there was a strong association. An example is the home of Samuel Stacker. Constructed in 1856, Stacker lived here only until his death in 1859. Because it is the only extant building associated with an important ironmaster, and because Stacker was known to be actively involved in the industry, the house was nominated and listed in the National Register.

Built resources were considered eligible for their pattern of settlement or development, the individual who lived there, or their design. However, they can be eligible as historic archaeological sites if they reveal information about the site patterning of towns, construction methods over different phases, or social relationships. An example is the New Aetna site. A historic map showed the presence of buildings, extractive sites, the furnace, and railroads and roads. Today the site contains slag, the remains of the stack, and one company built house. Since the area shown on the historic map is relatively undisturbed and the potential for subsurface remains appears good, the site has the potential to answer the research questions about community resources noted above.

As previously stated, the focus of survey and the nomination was on processing and, secondarily, community resources. It was felt that extractive resources would be eligible only if they could be linked directly to a processing site. Then they might yield important information on the technology of mining. More information on mining could change this.

Forty-four sites were nominated and listed; three had been previously listed but had their boundaries expanded. Many sites contained all three property types. In addition to the sites, four individual buildings were nominated and listed. Three of the buildings were ironmasters' houses, and one was the foundry complex.


The survey discussed how many of the sites were once iron plantations, yet we don't always know where the plantation boundaries were or how large they were. Many of these sites operated first as plantations and later as "company towns"; both involved large land holdings with numerous interrelated components such as houses, industrial sites, farming and timber acreage, and commercial areas. Therefore, there is a potential for large areas to be included within the boundaries. On some sites it was easy to determine boundaries, but numerous sites were more difficult, such as Chamberland Furnace.

The district is unique to Tennessee in that it participated in all phases of the iron industry. It contains the earliest known site, ca. 1795, and continued furnace operations into the twentieth century. Chamberland Furnace contains all three resource types. Ore mining, limestone quarrying, furnaces, iron plantation resources, and later company-built resources are all here. The industry was the reason for the settlement, growth, and development of the town.

Boundaries, for all sites, were determined to include only those areas where the visible remains of historic resources existed or where historic documentation showed the evidence of potential remains. Because of the amount of land and the manner in which the sites operated, it was important to look at the relationship of the resources types: processing, extractive, and community resources are connected by rail lines, tram lines, roads, and streams. Usually, the buildings were arranged in a linear pattern along roads or railroads. The historic map of Cumberland Furnace depicts the location of the furnaces, ore beds, quarry, and buildings, most of which are connected by roads or railroad lines.

National Register boundaries were determined by using historic maps, site topography and integrity, the presence of surface materials, but they also had to deal with current legal boundaries. Although the historic map is simple, today's map is more complex and shows the land subdivided over years and new buildings on it. The maps also reveal the different ways in which properties can be viewed in Chamberland Furnace. In the early 1970s, only three properties were considered eligible for the National Register—the ironmaster's house and the church and school erected by the ironmaster's family. If one looks only at the extant buildings, a small district centered along the major road appears eligible. When the buildings, quarry and ore beds, and furnace sites are all included in a district, there are 625 acres that represent the history of the community and the industrial operations.

Chamberland Furnace may have been a typical iron community, so a brief discussion of the types of resources found here is appropriate. Ironmaster James Drouillard's 1879 house overlooks town. The ironmaster's house overlooking his property is a characteristic pattern, as was due to the fact that Drouillard inherited the house and industry. Today one can see the ore banks area from the house, historically one would have seen industry and about two hundred workers during Drouillard's ownership. The house and school are found below the owner's house. Worker's log houses, some of which were slave houses that have been enlarged or modernized, a manager's house, the summer home of a later furnace owner, and early twentieth century houses are all situated near the road. At the center of the community are privately built commercial buildings and company offices. A depot, post office, and the company commissary are also located near the road. Collectively, the buildings are good examples of worker housing or vernacular architecture in the region.

District boundaries include all known sites and buildings associated with the iron industry of Chamberland Furnace, since towns existence depended on iron. To the east of the center of the town is undisturbed land leading to the quarry site, the only one in the Western Highland Rim, and to the west is the second furnace site. The third furnace site has a concentration of slag and the remains of concrete pylons; historic photographs let us know what it actually looked like. Slag scatter is seen throughout the district, however, it is concentrated at two of the furnace sites. On one of the hillsides is the cemetery of another ironmaster's family. Cemeteries were interesting not only for their historic associations but because the fences surrounding them reflected one way the iron was utilized. Unlike many of the sites, there is little information on the earliest furnace here (1790s). Therefore, this site can answer research questions about early operations and later iron site changes. We can learn about mining technology, internal site patterning, the relationship of resource types, building technology, and the industrial landscape.


1 Samuel D. Smith, Charles P. Stripling, and James M. Brannon, A Cultural Resource Survey of Tennessee's Western Highland Rim Iron Industry, 1790s-1930s, Tennessee Department of conservation, Division of Archeology, Research Series, no. 8 (Knoxville, 1988).

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Last Updated: 30-Sep-2008