As we drove from our campground Sun Valley to
Valley Forge on Rt. 23, we passed a sign showing "Hopewell
Furnace National Historic Site. Since we were heading for Valley
Forge we didn't want to take the time to check it out then, but
did on our way back. Unfortunately the park was getting ready to
close for that day and it looked interesting enough for a trip
back. Next day (Aug 3) we started out for the trip to Hopewell
Furnace. The trip from Rt. 23 to Hopewell Furnace on Rt 345 was
lovely. It was a two-lane road, lined with trees on each side.
The only drawback is that the drive is through a National Park
area and there are restrictions as to width and length of
vehicles that can travel on it.
Upon approaching the Hopewell Furnace buildings, all you see is a white building housing the Rangers' Office and a small museum. However, if you look down over the hill you will see an entire village. Before we went down to visit the village we took time to find out something about Hopewell Furnace and its beginnings from Ranger Christine M. Almerico, Education Coordinator.
Hopewell furnace was originally built by Mark Bird in 1771. At the time England was extremely concerned about the rapid expansion of the industry in the colonies and the increasing skill with which American ironmasters turned out cast and wrought iron products. Due to this, England attempted to limit American iron makers to just producing pig iron (rough cast bars) which would be shipped to England and then processed into profitable goods, which would then be sold back to America. In spite of these limitations, by the Revolution, American furnaces, forges, and mills were turning out one-seventh of the world's iron goods. Hopewell furnace was very successful due to Pennsylvania's combination of abundant raw materials. By the time Hopewell Furnace was built in Schuylkill Valley, Pennsylvania was on its way to becoming the most important iron-producing colony. Bird immediately began casting stove plates despite the British ban, and when the war began he was a steady supplier of cannon and shot to the Continental Army and Navy. As the war drew to an end, however, Bird's financial troubles began to mount. Due to these problems Bird ended up auctioning off what was then called Hopewell Plantation at a sheriff's sale. Bird fled his remaining creditors by moving to North Carolina. After this, Hopewell changed hands several times until Clement Brooke (a son of one of the owners) brought the operation to the peak of its prosperity from 1816 to 1831. He presided over Hopewell during its best years, when the furnace supplied a wide variety of iron products to cities along the east coast. During this time Hopewell used charcoal to fuel the huge furnace. In order to do this an extremely large amount of timber was required. After Brooke retired in 1848, Hopewell's owners found it increasingly difficult to compete. They made efforts to keep up by building an anthracite (coal) hot-blast furnace and installing a backup steam engine, for the blast machinery. The new furnace was a failure, and in any case their efforts only delayed the inevitable. Iron plantations like Hopewell, were overtaken by the shift from the age of iron and water power to the age of steel and steam, and so, were unable to follow the industry into the 20th century. In the summer of 1883, Hopewell Furnace made its final blast.
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