New River Symposium 1984
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Mary B. Kegley, Wytheville, Virginia


Although it is difficult to establish the exact date iron operations began in the New River mineral region, there is a document which indicates that iron works were being considered on Chestnut Creek, a branch of New River, as early as 1779. Richardson Owen was requesting assistance from the Virginia Assembly, claiming that a great quantity of ore "is and may be got convenient to a never failing stream, sufficient to manufacture iron in the most extensive manner...there being none [iron works]...yet erected or begun on the Western Waters." Although the Assembly approved an additional 5,000 acres of land for Owen, nothing else is known of him or the iron works. [1]

In present Wythe County, the furnace operation at Poplar Camp not far from the New River in the southeast part of the county, is said to be among the pioneer operations. Swank in his research on the iron industry relates that a stone from the furnace was dated 1778, but there has been no verification of this point and the date appears to be too early in view of Owens' petition. [2]

However, there are a few references to "iron ore banks" in the land record books. For example, in 1785 Daniel Carlin (Carland) was selecting land on Crooked Creek and in 1786 on Little Reed Island Creek. In the same year Andrew Kincannon was speculating on similar lands on Wallens Bottom, now Grayson County, and William Love was making choices on Cripple Creek in present Wythe County in 1787. All of these choices are on the New River watershed. On the Holston River further west, an iron works was established as early as 1786 and Joshua Jones and his associates were still choosing sites to include iron ore banks in 1797. [3]

William Love, mentioned above, was a blacksmith, and in 1792 he and his partner James Byrne agreed to build a bloomery at the south end of Love's mill dam on Cripple Creek, the exact location unknown. The bloomery operation was not part of a furnace operation, but a forge where blooms, that is large blocks of iron were hammered into shape with a heavy trip hammer. Furnaces produced hollow ware, sows and pigs. [4] This is the first documented iron business in what is now Wythe County, on the waters of New River. However, this presentation considers only the cold blast charcoal iron furnaces of the New River mineral region.


Speedwell furnace, located just west of the small town of Speedwell on the waters of Cripple Creek, was established some time prior to December 10, 1799, the date a road to the Speedwell iron works is mentioned. [5] In November of that year, Jehu Stephens sold the right to use iron ore on his property to Francis Preston, and in 1801 a tract of 200 acres was conveyed to Preston. In 1804 a road order mentions Preston's iron works. [6]

A "Ballance Book" for the Speedwell iron furnace dated 1807 has survived showing amounts due Francis Preston from 148 citizens of North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and several counties in Virginia. The accounts were signed by William Brownlow, apparently the bookkeeper for Preston. [7]

Preston sold seven tracts of land, including the Speedwell iron works and the right to use the ore on the Stephens' property to William King. However, the deed was not made until 1821 following King's death. In the meantime William Love and Jehu Stephens also conveyed land to King or his heirs. [8]

The firm of King, Trigg and Morgan has traditionally been associated with the Speedwell Furnace. Morgan was said to have been the foreman. The only land record mentioning these names is a conveyance from Henry Stephens giving them the privilege to dig and haul ore from his land (no location given). A tombstone of iron, said to have been cast at the Speedwell furnace bears the inscription "Mary Trigg King Morgan, born October 13, 1807, died September 17, 1808." The marker now hangs on the wall of the old courthouse in Wytheville. [9]

The next owner of the furnace was Alexander Smyth, noted lawyer, statesman, and general in the War of 1812, whose home was located in Speedwell, not far from the furnace. When Smyth died the 560 acres of the Speedwell tract was inherited by his daughter Frances Piper (later McTeer) in the 1830's. Nothing appears to have been done with the property during the Smyth family ownership until 1872 when Frances sold the land to Robert Gilland Baker, an Englishman, who joined D.E. James, William C. Auman, and Robert Densham as partners in 1873 to manufacture pig iron with immediate plans to start up the furnace and build a mill dam. [10] The partners provided either cash, land, livestock, corn, hay, cord wood, lumber or merchandise or a combination of these. The company was known as the D.E. James Company, later the Speedwell Iron Company. The present furnace and store buildings probably date from this period. The furnace lands were purchased by Crockett Company in 1881 for $15,237.50. This company was composed of James S. Crockett, John W. Robinson and M.B. Tate. [11]

In 1880, under the James ownership, the furnace with a capacity of 1,400 tons was manufacturing pig iron in February and April of that year. The following year under the Crockett management, 600 tons of car-wheel pig iron was produced using 1,450 tons of ore and 88,700 bushels of charcoal. The furnace employed 50-60 men and used 2.4 tons of ore and 147.8 bushels of charcoal for each ton of iron produced. The finished product was marketed in Baltimore, Wilmington, Cincinnati and St Louis. In 1882 the furnace made an average of 5 tons a day and ran from April until August when it "blew out" on account of damage done by high water of Cripple Creek. It went back into blast a month later and continued until February of the next year. There were 450 tons of iron on hand in 1883 and production was unlikely for the remainder of the year. [12]

Transportation improved in 1882 when plans were underway by the Norfolk and Western Railroad for construction of a spur line through the Cripple Creek Valley from the New River to Speedwell to service the entire iron industry of the area. Prior to this improvement, wagons transported the pig iron to the nearest railroad stations on the main line, either at Crockett, Wytheville or Max Meadows. [13]

The stack at the furnace measured 32 feet by 9 feet, and in 1887 the operation was owned by John Robinson of Graham's Forge. The company name changed to Wythe and Speedwell Mining and Manufacturing Company and the property was transferred to the Pulaski Development Company in 1890, the date of the last blast. [14] Later owners included the Carter Coal and Iron Company and the Virginia Iron Coal and Coke Company. [15] Pieces of iron and a variety of slag can still be found at the site.


The Cave Hill furnace was located south of Speedwell and was constructed in 1881 by Robert Sayers. The stack which no longer stands measured 47 feet by 10 feet and was in blast the summer of 1882. A visit to the site revealed that it was several feet from Dry Run, a name also applied to the furnace. Limestone blocks and brick rubble are scattered over the area, and the red-stained road leads to the mine. After operating three or four weeks in 1882, the furnace "blew out" after making 80 tons of iron. It was back in production by September 1, manufacturing 5 tons a day. Nothing else is known of its operation.

Francis Mill Creek, a branch of Cripple Creek was noted for its rich ore deposits nearby and consequently noted for its furnaces—Beverly, Noble and Wythe.


Beverly Furnace, built about 1880, had a capacity of 10 tons, and had a stack which measured 33 feet by 9 feet. The furnace stood on Francis Mill Creek near where the Beverly Mill now stands. In 1882 the furnace was owned by Crockett and Company and produced 950 tons of car-wheel pig iron. There were 60-80 men employed and the product was sold in Baltimore, Wilmington, Cincinnati and St. Louis. [17]

A report filed in 1882 revealed that the furnace was in blast on April 1 and production averaged 5 tons a day. In July, the furnace was out of blast for three weeks to replace a hearth, but production resumed until December 24, averaging 6 tons of iron daily during the nine months. At the end of the year 250 tons of iron were on hand. [18] In 1887 John Robinson was the owner, and in 1890 the furnace was sold with others, to the Pulaski Development Company. Later owners included the Carter Coal and Iron Company (1898) and the Virginia Iron Coal and Coke Company (1899). [19]


The Noble Furnace, also called Iron Dale, Irondale, and Norma, stands south of the Town of Cripple Creek on Francis Mill Creek. The stack measures 33 feet by 11 feet and was built about 1880-1881 by the Wythe Iron Company. [20]

In 1880 agreements were drawn up whereby John W. Coe of New York and John S. and Henry Noble of New Jersey assigned their interests to the Wythe Iron Company. The furnace was erected on 10 acres of land known as the Nehemiah Fry tract. In 1881 a list of the personal property on the premises was given in order to secure debts. Everything for the manufacturing process was included. Consequently we have the engine house, the coal house, bridge house, stables, corn cribs, the 8 horsepower engine, the 60 horsepower steam engine, two cylinder boilers, a blowing machine, the buddle or ore washing apparatus, anvils, bellows, iron, steel, ore and coal barrows, wheel barrows, merchandise in the store, scales, hay, corn, straw, fodder, and a buggy with bridle and harness. [21]

In 1881 the first year of manufacture, the Wythe Iron Company had a contract to sell 200 tons out of the first production to the Lobdell Car—Wheel Company of Wilmington, Delaware at $31 per ton (2,240 pounds). [22] In that year the furnace produced 700 tons of car-wheel pig iron from 1,700 tons of ore and 108,000 bushels of charcoal. The furnace employed 60-70 men and used 2.4 tons of ore to produce one ton of iron. The product was sent to New York, St. Louis, Wilmington, and Cincinnati.

Early in 1882 the business was sold to John F. Slaughter, George Dunn and James Walker and the furnace went into blast on July 25, with plans to run until the first of January; however, after running about two months and manufacturing 400 tons of iron, the furnace was shut down due to the scarcity of transportation and labor. It blew in again on December 1, with plans to run until March 1, 1883. Average production was 6-7 tons per day. In 1882 there were 300 tons of iron on hand. [24]

In 1883 Slaughter, Dunn and Company formed the Norma Iron and Mining Company and the ten acres where the furnace was located and the 15,000 acres of mountain land for ore and wood was transferred to the new company. They manufactured number two foundry pig iron with the brand "Norma Iron Company" using local red and brown hematite ores. This furnace was a closed top, cold blast furnace and operated by steam, but was not considered to be successful and after operating several blasts was sold in 1885 to Crockett and Company. [25]

Traditionally the engines installed to produce sufficient air for the furnace were said to be too small to run the furnace to capacity. However, some local citizens report that the furnace was improperly charged by a furnace man who had a grudge against the owners. The furnace chilled and was clogged with the limestone-ore-charcoal charge. [26]

A tramway line was built along Francis Mill Creek to transport the iron to the main line of the railroad. The engine house survives. In 1886 the furnace again changed hands becoming the property of the Iron Mountain Company. It was purchased the next year by the Clinch Valley Coal and Iron Company and finally by the Pulaski Iron Company. [27] During the latter period, the Pulaski Iron Company operated the boarding house, the mines and buddle, but shipped the washed lump ore to the furnace then operating in Pulaski. Dinkey engines and steam shovels were part of the mining scene. The mines were located about two miles from the Noble Furnace and can still be found if rough roads and wooded paths are followed. The Frye trestle, built about this time, improved transportation to Pulaski.


The third furnace on Francis Mill Creek formerly stood near the Noble Furnace and was named Wythe or Little Wythe Furnace. Earlier it had been known as the Stephens or Porter Furnace. [29]

The 168 acres (later narrowed to 6-7 acres) upon which the first furnace stood, was surveyed in 1790 and a grant issued to James Byrne and William Love in 1796. This was Byrne's only tract of land in Wythe County, although Love owned numerous tracts near the Speedwell Furnace. This fact apparently led Whitman to erroneously conclude that the bloomery (forge) operated by them in 1792 was located at Speedwell, when in fact it was at this location on Francis Mill Creek. The furnace operation appears to have developed about 1807 under the direction of Henry Stephens. [30]

Henry Stephens and Thompson Carter had an agreement with John Love to erect and build a furnace "with the necessary dam, water works and casting house." As soon as it was ready to blow, then William King was to find one-third of the flasks and patterns necessary for making hollow ware. Stephens and Carter agreed to sell their part at the furnace at the rate of $25 per ton (2,268 pounds). In 1809 Love sold the furnace tract to the heirs of William King, and in 1814 Stephens' share was sold to King. [31]

The furnace was later owned by David Pierce and Alexander Pierce and from 1848 into the 1870's it was known as the Porter Furnace. In 1859 Lesley identified the furnace as Porters and stated it was built 30-40 years ago, and was abandoned and in ruins in the 1850's. [32]

The property was mortgaged in 1860 and sold nine years later for debts. Robert Sayers, Jr. became the purchaser for $950. In September 1872 a partnership was formed (Sayers and Oglesby) to manufacture iron, Robert contributing the three tracts of land including the Stephens [Porter] furnace tract. [33]

In 1873 the furnace was rebuilt with a stack measuring 25 feet by 8 feet. In was an open top, cold blast furnace. In 1880 the capacity reported was 3,000 tons annually. In the following year 850 tons of charcoal pig iron was made from 2,300 tons of ore using 60-70 men. The product was sold in Baltimore, Wilmington and St. Louis. [34]

In 1882 the furnace went into blast on June 20th and ran until November 20, making about 6 tons daily. The furnace used local red and brown hematite ores, producing car-wheel pig iron. Selling agents were R.C. Hoffman and Company in Baltimore. [35]

In 1886 the property was sold to James S. Crockett, N.P. Oglesby, John W. Robinson and M.B. Tate. The year before the Norma Iron Mining Company had sold them a tract of land near the Wythe Furnace with the right to "build, use, maintain and operate a railway or tramway along Francis Mill Creek over the lands of the Norma Company and below the Porter or Wythe Furnace." [36]

The date of the last blast at this furnace is unknown and it is no longer standing. However, a piece of bar iron survives with the brand "Wythe" on it. Local citizens state that other similar bars are at the bottom of the creek where the wagons had difficulty crossing. To lighten the load the bars were thrown in the creek. [37]

Rich ore deposits continued to be mined by the Virginia Iron Coal and Coke Company and the Pulaski Iron Company long after the furnace ceased to manufacture iron. [38]


The first forge and furnace at the present site of the Raven Cliff Furnace on Cripple Creek was probably established about 1810 by Joseph Bell and Andrew Kincannon. The property was mortgaged several times and sold for the debts of the various owners. From 1835 until 1857 the property was owned by James T. Gleaves who sold it to William Wilkinson. Part of the property was sold to Richard W. Sanders, John W. Green, J.P.M. Sanders, James N. and F.E. Kincannon and A.K. Fulton in 1861. In 1866 James, John and William Wilkinson and their wives transferred the 28 acres with the furnace and forge and five other tracts of land to Andrew K. Fulton and John W. Green. [39]

Capron states that the furnace at Raven Cliff was rebuilt in 1861 giving some credence to the idea that it was here that Green carried on one of his operations for the Confederacy. The two furnaces, Mt. Hope and Beauregard, whose locations have not been determined, were operated by Green during the Civil War and provided iron for the Confederacy. Several records pertaining to this operation were located at the Perkins Library at Duke University.

In 1880 the Raven Cliff Furnace was owned by Crockett, Tate and Company and had a capacity of 3,000 tons. In 1881 the furnace produced 1,500 tons of car-wheel pig iron employing 80-90 men. The product was marketed in Baltimore, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Wilmington. [41]

In 1882 Raven Cliff Furnace went into blast the first of May and averaged about 7 tons of iron per day and operated until December 20, "working finely all the time." In that year they had 600 tons of iron on hand and because of the low prices for iron, it was unlikely that they would operate in 1883. [42]

The furnace stack measures 29 feet by 9 feet, and in 1884 was owned by John W. Robinson. It was reported at that time that the first furnace was abandoned in 1829 although an attempt had been made to blow it in, in 1856. The furnace chilled and the project was set aside. The furnace used brown hematite ore from a bank four miles west of the furnace.

In later years the Cripple Creek extension of the Norfolk and Western Railroad had a spur line into the site in order to transport the ore and the finished product. Today the road-bed leads to a picnic and camping area along the creek. Butresses from an abandoned bridge across Cripple Creek survive.

In 1886 the Wythe Speedwell Mining and Iron Manufacturing Company was organized and became owner of several furnaces in the county, including Raven Cliff, Speedwell, Wythe, Foster Falls and Beverly. In 1890 this company sold 44 tracts of land totalling more than 8,000 acres to the Pulaski Development Company together with all of the above mentioned furnaces. Subsequent owners were the Carter Coal and Iron Company and the Virginia Iron Coal and Coke Company. [44]


Eagle Furnace, also known as Grey Eagle, is located on Cripple Creek about one mile below Raven Cliff Furnace and has a stack measuring 34 feet by 9 feet. Whitman states that it was built in 1863 by Stuart and Tuttle who operated it before selling to a Mrs. Preston who also was supposed to have operated the furnace. It was sold to David McConnell and included a forge as well as a furnace. Benjamin Gallup was said to have operated both. He was followed by David Huddle and the Crockett Company. [45] No court or other records have been found to support most of these statements.

However, in 1869 Samuel B. Williams transferred 111-1/2 acres to Thomas G. McConnell, D.G. Thomas, Jno. H. Stuart and David K. Tuttle operating as Stuart and Tuttle and Company. In 1872 McConnell obtained an additional tract of 777-1/2 acres from William and Augustus Cox. Both of these tracts formerly belonged to Elias Groseclose. In 1882 following a lawsuit involving Groseclose, Coxes, McConnell and others, the larger tract was transferred to David P. Graham and John W. Robinson. No disposition of the other tract has been found.

In 1880 Crockett Sanders & Company were the reported owners of Eagle Furnace which was not in blast, although it had a reported capacity of 1,200 tons. In the same year Grey Eagle was reported to have been owned by B. Gallup who reported a capacity of 800 tons of iron. Eagle and Grey Eagle were apparently separate entities; the one report intended for the forge, while the other was for the furnace. In the same year Graham and Robinson were also the reported owners. [47]

In 1881 the furnace produced 600 tons of car-wheel pig iron from 1,450 tons of ore and 90,600 bushels of charcoal using 2.4 tons of ore and 151 bushels of charcoal per ton of iron produced. They employed 60-70 men and the product was sold in St. Louis and Baltimore.

In 1882 the furnace went into blast on October 15 and plans were made to operate until the following March. The average production was about 5 tons daily. In 1884 Crockett Company owned four stacks in Wythe County: Beverly, Eagle, Raven Cliff and Speedwell. The furnace was said to have been abandoned in 1892, but Robinson writing about the furnaces of Wythe County states it was in operation in 1895 under the leadership of Graham and Robinson. [49]

In 1886 the furnace was owned by Speedwell Mining and Manufacturing Company and in 1890 was transferred to the Pulaski Development Company, followed by the Carter Coal and Iron Company and in 1899 to the Virginia Iron Coal and Coke Company. [50]


Walton Furnace located on Mine Mill Creek about two and one-half miles north of the New River was built on four acres of land about 1872 and measured 33 feet by 8-1/2 feet. Jerome Blair leased the land to Milton Howard and Dr. Richard Walton Sanders for ten years, giving permission to erect the furnace and other buildings necessary for the manufacture of iron, including the store house (now Blair's house), corn house and stables. [51]

In 1879 Blair leased the furnace to Lobdell Car Wheel Company of Wilmington, Delaware for a period of eight years to begin on February 27, 1882. Blair was to receive 50 cents a ton of metal made and was to be preferred for hauling and supplies. [52]

In 1880 Sanders and Howard sold 400 acres of land to Lobdell Car—Wheel Company with some mineral rights reserved and others granted to Lobdell. [53] The furnace was not included but had been leased by the Blairs earlier. In the same year, Lobdell purchased the Panic (White Rock) Furnace in Smyth County, as well as Brown Hill Furnace in Wythe County. In 1880 the furnace was not in production but its capacity was reported to be 800 tons, the amount produced the following year using 2,000 tons of iron ore and 70-80 men. The product was sent to the Lobdell Company in Wilmington. In 1882 the furnace produced 5 tons of iron daily. [54] The last blast at the furnace was said to be about 1888. The furnace operated by steam and the iron ore was roasted on the site before being used in the furnace. [55]

Nine letters from the Lobdell Company to J.H. Wissler, Esq. apparently the agent at the furnace, have been preserved at the Eleutherian Mills Historical Library in Delaware. Other papers (70,000) of the Lobdell Company are located at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. [56]

From these letters written by George Lobdell, between 1886 and 1889, only an inkling of the concerns for the Walton Furnace operation can be determined. In 1886 there was a conclusion that 6,450 cords of wood ought to make 1,500 tons of iron. Also the founder's report showed that for the year the furnace was doing very well and he requested that the iron be sent as fast as possible in 100 ton lots. [57]

In March 1887 Spriggs was to put in a new hearth and to "get out rock for another one at once." Andy Porter was to make hearths for "coalings" and begin coaling as soon as possible. [58] In 1889 Lobdell bemoaned the fact that there was not more coal so that the furnace could run longer and he suggested ways to correct a shortage of water at the Porter buddle. [59]


The Brown Hill Furnace is located on State Route 94 where it crosses Cripple Creek, about one-half mile south of Porter's Crossroads near Route 641. The furnace was built about 1870 on a 30 acre tract and measured 40 feet by 81-1/2 feet and had a capacity of eight tons. It was operated by steam. [60]

In 1872 C.M. Kitchens and his wife sold the land to the Brown Hill Iron Company. Members of the company included Abraham, William M., W.S. and James B. Painter, John Walters and Benjamin Rowe. The company was sometimes referred to as Abraham Painter and Company. [61]

In 1880 the Painters sold the furnace with buildings and machinery to the Lobdell Car Wheel Company but reserved the corn mill. Possession was to take place January 15, 1881 when the lease, then in effect, would expire. Abraham Painter also conveyed a buddle tract giving Lobdell the right to use water, erect buddles for washing ore and the right of ingress and egress to the property. [62]

The furnace was rebuilt by Lobdell in 1882 and went into blast on July 1 of that year making six tons of iron a day. Work continued for a few months and with 500-600 tons of iron on hand no preparation was being made for further production. Apparently the ore used was of a low grade and the one blast by Lobdell gave "rather disastrous results." [63]


Although the date of the first furnace at Poplar Camp is given as 1778, there is no concrete evidence to suggest an industry was at this location until 1798. On October first of that year, Greenberry G. McKenzie and Caleb Bobbitt of Grayson County and Thomas Blair of Wythe County formed a partnership to "carry on an iron furnace." on the land purchased from William Ross in 1797. Blair was to manage the building of the furnace and the production of "good merchantable castings or hollow ware." He was to have as much land as necessary for "erecting dwelling houses, barns, stables, cole houses, and cole yards" for the use of the furnace. McKenzie and Bobbitt were to supply the provisions and one-third of the timber and ore, for Blair who was to pay them $1,000. [64]

Interests of McKenzie and Bobbitt in the furnace tracts (590 acres) were sold in 1802 to Thomas and William Herbert and David Pierce. In 1808 the Herberts sold their interests to Pierce. Blair had maintained his one-third interest in the furnace. [65]

David Pierce, a tavernkeeper, and owner of a substantial interest in the lead mines on New River, was an entrepreneur of the first order. He operated grist and saw mills, an iron forge and furnace; owned four bark mills, five anvils, as well as blacksmith, tanner's and shoemakers' tools. The bar iron, castings, bellows, tools, flasks, patterns and castings belonging to the furnace are mentioned in the appraisal of his estate in 1833. There were more than 15,00 pounds of bar iron and more than 36,000 pounds of castings on hand at his death. Following his death 69,000 pounds of lead were sold for $5,000. The appraisal and sale of his estate covered 28 legal pages in the will book and the sale brought in more than $18,000, a substantial sum for the 1830's. [66]

A block of limestone with the inscription "D. Pierce 1810" was taken from the old furnace and was preserved by family members for many years. [67] The last blast at the furnace took place sometime between 1817 and 1827 and the furnace was in ruins prior to the Civil War and not mentioned again. [68]


The furnace at Barren Springs was built by David Graham about 1853 and measured 7 feet across the bosh and was 40 feet high. In 26 weeks of 1855 and 1856 they made an average of 450 tons of iron. In 1859 the furnace was managed by Charles Lyons. The furnace stands on the south side of the New River near the community of Barren Springs near where the road (Route 100) crosses the New River and near the railroad line. [69]

In 1873 the furnace was rebuilt by David P. Graham and John W. Robinson and in 1880 was owned by J.W. McGavock and Company but was not in blast. McGavock inherited the property from his father-in-law David Graham. In 1882 the furnace began production on April 1 and averaged 6 tons a day. In May it stopped long enough to install a new hearth and resumed production until February 1, 1883. The daily production averaged 5-1/2 to 5-3/4 tons. In 1882, 450 tons of iron was on hand at the furnace. In that year the heirs of David Graham sold their inherited interest in the mineral rights for $15,000 to Charles B. Squire of New Jersey, and the McGavocks sold the land (1,583 acres) and the mineral rights for $35,700. Th sale included the ferry, boats, and fixtures, although the family reserved the right to cross the river with wagons, teams and produce, free of charge. The school and the Methodist Church were excepted from the sale. In December 1882 the Passaic Zinc Company assumed the debt and became the purchasers. [70]

The Norfolk and Western Railroad extended their line to Barren Springs prior to 1886 and the Passaic Zinc Company provided 1-1/2 acres of land for the depot which was to be built within one year with buildings for passengers and freight. Two years later a siding for loading and shipping ores was to be provided on Periwinkle Branch. [71]

In 1899 the Passaic Zinc Company leased the Barren Springs property to the Virginia Iron Coal and Coke Company for 20 years with extensive provisions regarding royalties, care of the buildings, timber rights, washing and loading zinc, and arbitration if disagreements arose. [72]


Foster Falls Furnace also known as Pierce, New River or Roaring Falls Furnace is situated on the south side of the New River not far from the present Interstate 77 and the shot tower, in the community of Foster Falls. The furnace was built by the Foster Falls Mining and Manufacturing Company in 1880-81 and was first operated by water power from the New River. The furnace measured 25 feet by 8 feet, and had a capacity of 12 tons per day. [73]

In 1881 the furnace was owned by the New River Iron Company and produced tons of car-wheel pig iron from 2,450 tons of ore and 146,000 bushels of charcoal using 2.5 tons of ore and 140.9 bushels of charcoal to produce one ton of iron. The furnace employed 70-80 men and the product was sold in St. Louis, Baltimore, Cincinnati and Wilmington. [74]

In 1882 the furnace went into blast in January but halted in March and April to install a new hearth. It produced 6-3/4 tons of iron per day. It returned to blast on April 25, and stayed in production until December 25, when it blew out. At that time it had 1,000 tons of iron on hand. If the price continued to be low as predicted there were no plans to operate in 1883.

In 1884 the furnace was owned by the Fosters Falls Iron and Manufacturing Company. The furnace was described as an open top, cold blast, charcoal furnace using local hematite ores. The product was car-wheel pig iron. The furnace had an annual capacity of 2,000 net tons and the iron was branded with the name "Pierce". The company president was J.W. Robinson. [76]

The furnace operated until 1890 when it was sold to the Pulaski Development Company and later to the Virginia Iron Coal and Coke Company in 1899. The latter company increased the capacity of the furnace by building a higher stack and eliminating the water power bellows. The blowing engine replacement was operated by steam from two boilers fired by gas from the furnace. [77]

The last blast at this furnace was made in 1914. The ore mined later was shipped to Pulaski for working. At this time Jim Bryant and Riley Lawson were foundry men. The furnace still stands below the road near the Foster Falls train station.


The Graham family were involved in the manufacture of iron products in Wythe County for more than 75 years. It began with David Graham about 1826 when he purchased land in the vicinity of what is now known as Graham's Forge. The former owners, James and Andrew Crockett, had 1,200 acres on Reed Creek and Cedar Run where they operated an iron works as early as 1796. They received permission to build a dam across the creek and to build a forge in 1805. [79] The mill stands today near the site, and stones from the first furnace were used to build the basement.

Watson erroneously gives Graham credit for beginning Cedar Run Furnace about 1800, but that was the year he was born. When he was 26 he purchased 2,000 acres of land and began his iron empire, soon becoming the ironmaster of Wythe County. [80]

There were several stacks in the same vicinity. They were known as Parry Mount (Paramount) One and Two and Cedar Run. [81] Many of the account books of the furnace operation are filed at the University of Virginia where 130 ledgers and numerous loose papers are available for research. Parry Mount One was located 400 yards west of the second one and about three miles southeast of Graham's forge. The first furnace was apparently built by Crocketts, and was abandoned in 1832 and in ruins in 1859. Parry Mount Two on the road from the forge to Barren Springs was built in 1832 and supplied the forge. It was abandoned in 1852 and was in dilapidated condition in 1859. [82]

In the Graham records the Fair Play and Paint Furnaces are also mentioned in the mid-1850's but no location is given, and it is not clear whether these were just additional names for the same furnaces or not. [83]

The forge and rolling mills were built about 1800 and rebuilt in 1856 with four refinery fires, and one hammer worked by water. In 1856 it produced 161 tons of blooms and 23 tons of bar iron. The rolling mills and nail works were established in 1828 with three heating furnaces, four trains of rolls, five nail machines and one hammer. [84]

The production records for 1857 show the forgemen manufactured blooms and bar iron and from January 1 until April 10, produced 1,330 pounds of nails.

Fleming K. Rich, a cabinet and coffin maker of Wytheville, purchased iron products regularly from Graham. From 1841 to 1846 he bought oven lids, spider lids, camp kettles, flat irons, andirons, pots, a back plate, a stove plate, and a kettle. To settle his account Rich provided hauling service to Wytheville, Hillsville, Newbern and Saltville. Other iron products made at Graham's furnace and forge included iron water pipes, stoves, hobble weights, iron rails, giant kettles, minature lard lamps, small ovens and lids, andirons, pots and nails, as well as the pillars for the brick mansion house. [87]

In 1850 Graham's real estate was valued at $70,000. He owned 29 slaves. In 1860 his personal property was appraised at $55,800 and in 1863 he paid tax on 6,907 acres of land.

During the Civil War, Graham's Furnace was one of the three in Wythe County providing iron for the Confederacy. Unfortunately cannon made with the Graham metal proved to be completely unreliable. Tredegar Ironworks informed Graham that several of the guns had misfired and the cannon burst. [89]

In 1835 Graham married Martha Peirce, daughter of David Peirce mentioned in connection with Poplar Camp Furnace. They built their brick house not far from Cedar Run Furnace, adding on to it in the 1850's. The ironmaster David, died in 1870, leaving his son David Peirce Graham, known as Major Graham, and his son-in-law John W. Robinson to continue the business. [90]

In the 1880's the reports indicated that there was an old and a new furnace owned by Graham and Robinson. The furnace was not in blast that year, although the capacity was reported to be 400 tons. [91]

In 1881, the Cedar Run Furnace with a stack 32 feet by 9 feet produced 1,250 tons of car-wheel iron from 3,021 tons of ore and 181,250 bushels of charcoal using 2.4 tons of ore and 164.1 bushels of charcoal for each ton of iron made. The furnace then employed 80-90 men. The product was sold in St. Louis, Louisville, Baltimore and Wilmington. [92]

In 1882 the furnace went into blast on April 20, 1882 averaging 5 tons a day. Although the plan was to operate until December or January they were forced to close down for four weeks in August because an in-wall fell in requiring a new hearth. The revised plan called for operation to continue until March 1, 1883 The average produced was 5 tons a day, and at the end of 1882 there were 200 tons on hand. They anticipated perhaps a short blast in 1884.

The report made in 1884 stated that the Cedar Run Furnace had been built in 1832, was a cold blast furnace operated by water power. It is the only furnace we have a picture of with the water wheel in place. The ore was mined on furnace property and their specialty was car-wheel pig iron. R.C. Hoffman was selling agent for iron merchants of Baltimore. He represented 15 charcoal furnaces in Wythe County including Raven Cliff, Barren Springs, New River, Cedar Run, Eagle, Speedwell and Wythe. In 1885 he wrote to John Robinson stating it was inadvisable to run the furnace at Foster Falls or Speedwell because it was impossible to sell the iron as trade is "worse now than ever." [94]

Graham's furnace operated until about 1900. The forge operated until 1916 when it was washed away by a flood. The mill stands near the site and the store house operated by Robinson is located near by. [95]

The nine cold-blast charcoal furnaces in Wythe County which remain standing are evidence of an era of great industrial activity which existed for approximately 100 years in the New River—Cripple Creek mineral region. The furnaces of Pennsylvania were early competitors. Technology changed over the years and it was no longer feasible to produce iron from charcoal with the cold-blast system. Coal discoveries in Southwest Virginia, prompted its use in the production of iron, and modern hot-air furnaces appeared briefly in the New River Valley. The natural resources—wood for charcoal and the iron ore supply—were becoming depleted and when the easily accessible, rich iron deposits on Lake Superior were discovered, production in the New River area dwindled to nothing. The furnaces are now only reminders of the industrial past.



(in feet)

SPEEDWELL*51,40032 x 91790's1870's50-602.4147.8
47 x 101881

32 x 9
or x 11
33 x 9
1807 or 1814187360-702.7145.8
33 x 91880
RAVEN CLIFF*73,00029 x 91810187680-902.4151.7
EAGLE, GREY EAGLE *4-3/480024 x 91863188160-702.4151
BROWN HILL*680040 x 8-1/21870's1882

32 x 91832188880-902.4164.1
FOSTER FALLS*6-3/42,00035 x 81881
BARREN SPRINGS*5-1/22,00035 x 8
40 x 7

33 x 81872






*Still standing

Prepared by Mary B. Kegley from Whitman, Iron Industry, The Virginias, 1880-1884, and selected deeds and records



Boyd, C. R. Resources of Southwest Virginia. New York: J. Wiley & Sons, 1881.

Capron, John D. "Virginia Iron Furnaces of the Confederacy." Virginia Cavalcade, XVII (Autumn 1967).

Dew, Charles B. Ironmaker to the Confederacy, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966.

Kegley, Mary B. Early Adventurers on the Western Waters, II. Orange, Virginia: Green Publishers, Inc., 1982.

Lesley, J. P. Iron Manufacturing Guide to Furnaces Forges and Rolling Mills. New York: Wiley, 1859.

Mahone, Fred. "The old Charcoal Furnace at Foster Falls." Southwest Virginia Enterprise (March 23, 1937), Wytheville, Virginia.

McCreath, Andrew S. and E. V. d'Invilliers. The New River—Cripple Creek Mineral Region of Virginia. Harrisburg: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1887.

Robinson, Henry. "Iron From its Incipicency." The News Review (August 23, 1895), Pulaski, Virginia.

Swank, James M. History of the Manufacturing of Iron in All Ages. Philadelphia: The American Iron and Steel Association, 1892.

The Virginias, a Mining, Industrial and Scientific Journal devoted to the development of Virginia and West Virginia, ed. and pub. by Jed Hotchkiss, Staunton, Virginia: J. M. Yost & Son, 1880-1885.

Whitman, J. A. The Iron Industry of Wythe County from 1792. rev. ed. Wytheville, Virginia: Southwest Virginia Enterprise, 1942.


Correspondence with Eleutherian Mills Historical Society Library, Wilmington, Delaware; Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Graham Ledgers, and Graham—Robinson Ledgers, Alderman Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

Land Grants, Virginia State Library Archives, Richmond.

Montgomery County Entry Book, Clerk's Office, Christiansburg, Virginia.

Montgomery County Legislative Petition of Richardson Owen, June 3, 1779, Virginia State Library Archives, Richmond.

Rich, Fleming K. Family Papers, Private Collection.

Sanders—Green Papers. Flowers Collection, Perkins Library, Duke University.

Wythe County Deed, Orders, Marriages, and Wills, Clerk's Office, Wytheville, Virginia.

Wythe County Census Records, 1850, 1860. Wytheville, Community College Microfilm Collection, Wytheville, Virginia.


1. Petition of Richardson Owen, June 3, 1779, Montgomery County Legislative Petition, Virginia State Library, Archives

2. James M. Swank, History of the Manufacturing of Iron in All Ages, p. 268.

3. Montgomery County Entry Book B, pp. 208, 235, 272, 353, 303, 364; Wythe County Entry Book 1, p. 97

4. Wythe County Deed Book 3, p. 206; J. A. Whitman, The Iron Industry of Wythe County, from 1792, pp. 7, 8.

5. Wythe County Orders, December 10, 1799.

6. Wythe County Deed Book 3, pp. 155, 157; 5, p. 115.

7. Wythe County Orders, November 15, 1804.

8. Preston—Campbell Papers, Reel 2, Vol. 4, p. 369, Library of Congress.

9. Wythe County Deed Book 9, pp. 104, 562; 5, pp. 120, 152, 153, 269.

10. Wythe County Deed Book 7, pp. 29, 37; 8, p. 131; Wythe County Will Book 3, p. 410.

11. Wythe County Deed Book 29, p. 106; 37, p. 185.

12. The Virginias, I, 30, 58; III, 52, 134; IV, 5.

13. Wythe County Deed Book 30, p. 22.

14. Andrew S. McCreath and E. V. d'Invilliers, The New River—Cripple Creek Mineral Region of Virginia, 1887, p. v.

15. Whitman, p. 9; Wythe County Deed Book 37, p. 188.

16. Whitman, p. 23; The Virginias, III, 134; IV, 5; V, 176.

17. Whitman, p. 22; McCreath, p. v; The Virginias, III, 52; Henry Robinson, "Iron From Its Incipiency," The News Review (August 23, 1895), no page.

18. The Virginias, III, 134; IV, 5.

19. McCreath, p. v; Whitman, p. 22.

20. Wythe County Deed Book 28, p. 314; 29, p. 225; The Virginias, III, 134.

21. Wythe County Deed Book 28, p. 321; 29, pp. 74, 225.

22. Wythe County Deed Book 29, p. 183.

23. The Virginias, III, 52.

24. The Virginias, III, 134; Wythe County Deed Book 29, p. 225.

25. Wythe County Deed Book 29, p. 225; 30, p. 277; The Virginias, V., 177; Wythe County Deed Book 32, p. 348.

26. Interview with several local citizens; Whitman, p. 22.

27. Wythe County Deed Books 33, p. 128; 50, p. 387.

28. Interview with Tom Vaughn, present owner of the furnace, 1983.

29. Wythe County Deed Book 18, p. 521.

30. Land Grant Book 33, pp. 495, 496; Whitman, p. 7; Wythe County Deed Books 6, pp. 270, 272; 20, p. 740.

31. Wythe County Deed Books 5, p. 268; 6, p. 270.

32. Wythe County Deed Books 6, p. 507; 17, p. 598; 18, pp. 193, 521; J. P. Lesley, Iron Manufacturing Guide to Furnaces, Forges and Rolling Mills, p. 74.

33. Wythe County Deed Books 22, p. 48; 23, p. 450; 25, p. 119.

34. The Virginias, V. 177; I, 30, 58; III, 52.

35. The Virginias, III, 134; IV, 5, V, 177.

36. Wythe County Deed Books 33, p. 148; 32, p. 348; 29, p. 577; 34, p. 533.

37. Interview with Helen and Dan Umberger, Cripple Creek, 1983.

38. Whitman, p. 17.

39. Whitman, pp. 12, 13; Wythe County Deed Books 22, p. 212; 23, p. 43.

40. John D. Capron, "Virginia Iron Furnaces of the Confederacy," Virginia Cavalcade XVII (Autumn 1967), p. 16; Sanders—Green Papers, Flowers Collection, Perkins Library, Duke University.

41. The Virginias, I, 30, 58; III, 52.

42. The Virginias, III, 134; IV, 5.

43. The Virginias, V, 177; McCreath, v; Lesley, p. 224.

44. Wythe County Deed Book 37, p. 188; Whitman, pp. 13-14.

45. Whitman, pp. 17-18.

46. Wythe County Deed Books 23, p. 402; 24, p. 291, 29, p. 329.

47. The Virginias, I, 30, 58.

48. The Virginias, III, 52.

49. The Virginias, III, 134; IV, 5; V, 176-177; Capron, p. 16; Robinson, p. 7.

50. Wythe County Deed Book 37, p. 188; Whitman, p. 18.

51. Whitman, p. 20; Family Records; The Virginias, V, 177.

52. Wythe County Deed Book 28, p. 346.

53. Wythe County Deed Book 27, p. 558.

54. The Virginias, I, 15, 30, 52; III, 134; IV, 5; Wythe County Deed Book 27, pp. 554, 580.

55. Whitman, p. 11; undated newspaper clipping.

56. Correspondence with Eleutherian Mills Historical Library, Wilmington, Del. and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pa.

57. Letters George Lobdell, President of Lobdell Car Wheel Company, Wilmington, Deleware to J. H. Wissler, Esq., March 31 and September 23, 1886, from Eleutherian Mills Historical Library, Wilmington, Del.

58. Ibid., March 12, 1887.

59. Ibid., January 7, and March 13, 1889.

60. Robinson, p. 7; McCreath, v; Wythe County Deed Book 24, p. 409; 27, p. 554; Whitman, p. 20.

61. Wythe County Deed Book 24, p. 410; The Virginias, I, 58.

62. Wythe County Deed Book 27, pp. 554, 580.

63. Whitman, p. 20; The Virginias, III, 134; IV, 5; V, 177.

64. Wythe County Deed Book 2, pp. 113, 115, 116, 117, 268; Swank, p. 268.

65. Wythe County Deed Book 4, p. 513; 5, pp. 8, 50.

66. Wythe County Will Book 4, pp. 257-285; Wythe County Orders, June 14, 1801; October 12, 1802; November 9, 1803.

67. Whitman, p. 12.

68. The Virginias, III, 62.

69. Lesley, p. 73; Whitman, p. 17; Robinson, p. 7; The Virginias, III, 118.

70. Wythe County Will Book 11, p. 454; Wythe County Deed Books 29, 357; 30, p. 67; 32, p. 513; The Virginias, III, 52, 134; V, 176.

71. Wythe County Deed Book 32, p. 586; 35, p. 320.

72. Wythe County Deed Book 46, p. 29.

73. Robinson, p. 7; Whitman, p. 18; The Virginias, V, 177.

74. The Virginias, III, 52.

75. The Virginias, III, 134; IV, 5.

76. The Virginias, V, 177.

77. Whitman, p. 18; Wythe County Deed Book 37, p. 188.

78. Fred Mahone, "The Old Charcoal Furnace at Foster Falls," Southwest Virginia Enterprise (March 23, 1937), no page.

79. Kegley, Mary B., Early Adventurers on the Western Waters, II, 372, 374, 375, 376.

80. Watson, p. 452; Wythe County Deed Book 10, pp. 361, 362; 11, p. 593.

81. Watson, p. 452.

82. Lesley, p. 74; Graham Ledgers, 1808-1892, 53 volumes; Graham—Robinson Ledgers, 1828-1906, 77 volumes, Alderman Library, University of Virginia, Charlottesville.

83. Graham—Robinson Ledgers, Day Book, 1854-1855 mentions Fair Play Furnace; Paint Furnace mentioned Nov. 15, 1842, Nov. 17, 1846, June 19, 1852.

84. Lesley, p. 183; G. R. Boyd, Resources of Southwest Virginia, New York, 1881. p. 90.

85. Graham—Robinson Ledgers, Box 74 and 47.

86. Flemming K. Rich Papers, private collection.

87. Interview with Frederick Graham, Grahams Forge.

88. Wythe County Census, 1850, 1860; Graham Papers, 1863 Tax Ticket.

89. Charles B. Dew, Ironmaker to the Confederacy, pp. 133, 135.

90. Family records; Wythe County Marriage Book I.

91. The Virginias, I, 30, 58.

92. The Virginias, III, 52.

93. The Virginias, III, 134; IV, 5.

94. The Virginias, V, 176; Letter R. G. Hoffman to Graham—Robinson, Graham Papers, Box 6.

95. Family records; interview with Frederick Graham.

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Last Updated: 08-Jul-2009