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Community Roots: Selections from the Local Legacies Project
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19th c. red sandstone furnace building
Nineteenth-century red sandstone Furnace Building housing charcoal cold blast iron furnace and equipment to support the iron-making process Photo courtesy Cornwall Iron Furnace Site Collection

Cornwall Iron Furnace

In blast from 1742 until 1883, the Cornwall Iron Furnace is a landmark of Pennsylvania's iron and steel industry. As the first established furnace in Lebanon County, Cornwall helped establish Pennsylvania as the leader of colonial iron production by the mid-1700's. During the American Revolution, the Cornwall Iron Furnace cast twenty-four artillery pieces and over 86-ton of shot (various size cannon balls) for the Continental Navy. It also provided iron stoves for the Continental Army. History credits the colonial iron industry as playing a crucial role in the Colonists' victory.

Stonemason Peter Grubb bought the original 395 acres of land in 1734 with intentions to use the stone as building material. Immediately recognizing the rust-colored iron deposits in the rocks, he tested the ore quality. So pleased with the results, he bought more land, accumulating over one thousand acres. Building the Cornwall Iron Furnace on this vast lush woodland provided the abundant fuel needed to create enough charcoal to keep the fires raging within the furnace in order to maintain a temperature hot enough to melt the iron ore. An acre of woods per day was needed to produce this much charcoal. The land also provided another element needed in the successful smelting of iron ore, limestone.

Wooden gear, 24' in diameter, used to create pressurized air in the blowing tubs
Four-ton, 24-foot-diameter wooden gear turned by steam power to create pressurized air in the blowing tubs Photo courtesy Cornwall Iron Furnace Site Collection, ca. 1970

Donated to the state of Pennsylvania in 1932, the Cornwall Iron Furnace is one of only two intact charcoal burning furnaces left in the world. Its massive stone furnace, steam-powered air-blast machinery and several related buildings survive intact. The other over seven hundred furnaces, forges and iron works in Eastern Pennsylvania have either fallen apart or been torn down.

Today, the Cornwall Iron Furnace is a museum under the administration of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. It has been carefully preserved for future generations to tour and reflect upon an earlier era, when so much was done with equipment that is looked upon today as being primitive. It is also inspiring to view the site where such great contributions were made by our forefathers to the building of America and to its fight for Independence.

Documentation includes a text report, 12 color slides, and a flyer with map.

Originally submitted by: George W. Gekas, Representative (17th District).

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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