Saturday, October 22, 2016

Two More Westmoreland County Iron Furnaces

Well October seems to be turning into iron furnace month. It's the eve of Coke Oven Season and these furnaces are getting to be a lot of fun to seek out. After raining for about 48 hours, I thought the weather cleared up this afternoon so I decided to head out. As soon as I got in the mountains and got on a trail it started raining again. I carried on anyway. 


The first furnace is right off the edge of Forbes State Forest near Jones Mills. It was extremely muddy and the streams were all running high so it was a little rough getting to it. Part of the Mountain Streams Trail, that you initially walk to get to the area of the furnace, is the old grade for the Blair Brothers Railroad. The Blair Brothers Railroad was a short line that ran between Jones Mills and Kregar and was used to service the Blair Lumber Company and the Blair Brothers coal mines at the latter town. This was actually the northern terminus of the Indian Creek Valley Railroad, but this one and quarter mile section was called the Blair Brothers Railroad. The Indian Creek Valley Railroad, established in 1906, ran from the confluence of Indian Creek and the Youghiogheny River to Jones Mills. These first 22 miles were completed by 1910. In 1926 the B&O Railroad purchased the Indian Creek Valley Railroad and the line was abandoned in 1969. One piece is the Indian Creek Valley Rail Trail, which has a finished section running from Jones Mills to Indian Head. We biked the trail a couple years ago and it's a really nice ride. 



 Fountain Furnace



This is the one that was kind of tricky getting to. The trail section was easy but when you hit Camp Run you leave the trail and hike upstream. You have to cross a handful of Camp Run tributaries, which is probably no problem most of the time. After all the rain the streams were all really swollen. It wasn't a treacherous hike by any means but you had to use your imagination or else you'd end up with wet feet. 


Not a lot is known about this furnace. According to "A Guide To The Old Stone Blast Furnaces Of Western Pennsylvania", Fountain Furnace was built before 1812 by J. Mayberry and Company. The stack was 32 feet high and 30 feet square at the base. There is a retaining wall and I saw a ditch that could have been a race running down to the creek. It definitely wasn't a stream but it did have water in it due to the rain.



Heading down the Mountain Streams Trail/Blair Brother Railroad grade.

Camp Run

Fountain Furnace

This is the only arch that remains. It's impossible to tell if there were more. There are only two sides still standing.

You might be able to look up inside. There was no way I was going to crawl into this though.

This is what's left of the small retaining wall.

There is an old roadbed to the right of the furnace. I'll get into this more in a little bit.

The back side of the furnace. Absolutely nothing left.

This is the side facing the creek. It's obviously collapsed as well.

One of the corner stones. These cuts are a lot rougher than some of the other furnaces I looked at this past week.

There are a series of these smaller "shim" stones on the intact portions of this furnace.

This massive stone cracked in half. Once again, another furnace that's over 200 years old, we're lucky to have anything.

Stone on the side of the arch. You can see here too how some of the stone looks like it was just fitted in there.

The back of the arch.

This was really interesting. A wooden post wedged between the stone. It looks like it's structural to me.

More interesting stone construction.

Looking back at the furnace. There is a camp or something back behind the furnace. The furnace itself is not within the boundaries of the state forest. It sits about 20 feet off the forest on private land.

This is the ditch that I think might have been a race. It goes right up to the furnace.

Looking in the opposite direction toward the creek.

On the hillside I saw this pile of stones and went up to check it out.

These are sitting right along a stream right on the old roadbed. It looks like they were part of a rough bridge abutment. Maybe this as an old road that led back to the furnace.

The other side of the stream.

Old roadbed grade. I thought maybe these were two piles of slag along the road but I couldn't dig anything up. The road's a mystery.

Another rough abutment on a different stream.

Looking back through that grade.

Abutment on the other side of the stream.

Helpful sign telling you what's what.

Back on the old rail grade heading back to the parking area.

Two girls riding their horses on the trail.



Valley Furnace


This was an easy one! This sits on private property north of Ligonier. The gate was opened and the furnace is roped off so people don't go in it. It sits right along the road, I saw a couple guys and nobody yelled at me so it's available to check out. You can see it from your car, it sits on Owl Hollow Road, which is right off of 711 in Hillsview. 


Valley Furnace was built in 1850 by L.C. Hall and Company. It was a coke fueled furnace. The coke was made in piles on the ground near the furnace so there are no coke ovens here. Apparently when the current owner was using heavy equipment near the side of the furnace he dug up an old iron mine with intact timber supports. This is one of the largest of the iron furnaces. It's a big one. 36 feet square at the base with a 10 foot diameter bosh. Valley Furnace was also known as Hillsview Furnace and is unique in that it is built from uncut stone.



Valley/Hillsview Furnace.

This is the arch facing the road.

Looking through the arch into the bosh.

Looking up the arch. Absolutely incredible stonework.

The arch on the right side. A big thank you to the property owners for making this available to view and for maintaining the site.

The entire right side.

Trees growing out of the side.

A closeup of the arch.

The back side of the furnace. Apparently this was much higher at one time. Rumor is some of the top stone was used in the construction of the Valley School that used to be near here.

There is a lot of brush growing off the top of it.

This is off to the side of it. Possibly the location of the old iron mine.

The left side of the furnace.

The left side arch.

Closeup of the inside of the arch.

A couple last looks at Valley Furnace.



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