Creek's Old Iron Furnace
Built In Menifee County In 1819
A Labor-Intensive Undertaking, Ironmaking
For Over 50 Years Near Scranton, Kentucky
Even today, Roger Keith can still remember visiting the site
of the old iron furnace on Beaver Creek. At the time, the early
1950s, it was something of a picnic spot and curiosity. It is
doubtful that many who visited it in those days realized the
important role it played in the lives of the early settlers.
Although the actual site is now under the backwaters of Cave
Run Lake, the old furnace still lives on in the memory of many
Menifee County residents.
By Roger Keith
With the threat
of Indian attacks over by late 1793, thousands of new settlers
flowed into east-central Kentucky, looking for a new beginning.
They came across the Appalachian Mountains, through the Cumberland
Gap, and down the mighty Ohio River. They came on flatboats,
on horseback, and in wagons. Many walked the forest trails, carrying
all of their worldly belongings on their backs. That which could
not be transported was left behind, which meant many often arrived
with only the barest of essentials.
Starting fresh in a new land posed many challenges and hardships.
Once suitable land was located, the settler and his family began
the task of building a shelter, clearing the land, and planting
crops. Almost immediately they realized they had a great need
for essential farm implements such as: axes, hatchets, saws,
plough plates, and oxen and horseshoe nails. In their cabins
they needed iron kettles, skillets, pothooks, and flat irons.
Even though some of these heavy iron items had been brought from
their former homes, they soon were worn-out and needed replacement.
Seeing an opportunity to fulfill a genuine and pressing need,
a few enterprising individuals began to construct iron furnaces
throughout Kentucky. One such furnace was located in Menifee
County, near present-day Scranton, which is about eight miles
northwest of Frenchburg. It was called the Beaver Valley Iron
Furnace and was constructed in 1819 by J. T. Mason and others.
The Beaver Furnace was a large truncated pyramid of sandstone
blocks, 35 feet high with a 28-foot square base. At the top it
tapered to about 20 feet. Around it were constructed several
support buildings and other structures necessary for running
a furnace. Most were simple buildings, which housed the ancillary
equipment needed to cast and handle the molten iron. At some
of the earlier iron furnaces, such as the Bourbon Furnace near
Owingsville, a blockhouse was built to help protect those workers
from marauding Indians.
The location of these early furnaces was very important. The
Beaver Furnace was built near the mouth of Myers Fork, where
it empties into Beaver Creek. For a successful operation, the
furnace had to be built where there was a ready source of flowing
water (Beaver Creek) and an abundance of hardwood trees for the
making of charcoal. Also necessary was a source of limestone
and, of course, the iron ore. The iron ore came from an iron
"bank" on Cold Cave. All of the resources necessary
for iron production had to be within a reasonable distance from
The final raw product of the Beaver Furnace was pig iron, which
would then either be worked into bars for the making of such
items as horseshoes or re-cast into such useful items as pots
and kettles. But first, the iron had to be made.
Making iron was a labor-intensive undertaking, often employing
upwards of 50 or more workers. The iron ore had to be dug out
of the ground by hand; limestone was quarried nearby and charcoal
was made from the trees of the forests. In its turn, all had
to be hauled to the furnace on sleds pulled by teams of mules
or oxen. Upon arrival at the furnace site, the raw materials
were taken to the top of the furnace via a large earthen ramp
that had been constructed for that purpose and dumped in. Alternating
layers of charcoal, limestone, and iron ore went into the top
of the stack until the furnace was properly filled or charged.
Water played an important role as well. Upstream, a small dam
was constructed across Beaver Creek to provide water to the furnace.
A slew, or race, was constructed to operate an undershot waterwheel
to run a "blower" for the furnace. Once the furnace
was lit, the forced air caused the fire to burn hot enough to
melt both the limestone and the iron ore. The charcoal provided
a steady, intense heat.
Limestone was an essential element in the iron making process,
absorbing the impurities in the molten iron. Being lighter than
the iron, it floated to the top and was drained away as slag.
The molten iron itself, being the heaviest material in the furnace,
settled to the bottom of the furnace. Here it collected until
time for the furnace to be tapped through an A-shaped opening
in the base of the furnace stack. At this opening, the Beaver
Furnace had a large log building built against the side of the
stack. Inside this building were several sand molds, carefully
shaped into the floor. Once the furnace was tapped, the molten
iron ran out into these molds. At first, the molten iron flowed
into a larger mold, which then emptied into several smaller molds
or pigs. Early iron makers thought that the molds looked a bit
like a mother sow suckling her pigs, thus, the name "pig
iron" was coined.
Once iron making began it continued day and night, seven days
a week. During that time new charges were continually being added
to the top of the furnace. Iron making continued throughout the
year, except in periods of extreme cold or heat.
The Beaver Valley Iron Works was in blast from 1820 until 1873
and was managed by ironmasters Robert Crockett (1820) and Jonathan
Kring (1828). Both of these ironmasters were from Pennsylvania
and were highly successful at producing iron from Kentucky ore.
In addition to the furnace, a casting mill or forge was constructed
about three miles downstream at the mouth of Murder Branch. At
this forge, the iron was worked to produce the products that
were in demand at the time. The following advertisement ran in
the January 7, 1822 issue of the Lexington Kentucky Reporter:
Beaver Furnace advertised for sale at its Iron & Casting
Store. A suitable quantity of plough plates, flat irons, kettles,
axe-bars, hoe-bars, oven and stove backing, skillets, mill gudgeons,
Over time, it became more and more difficult to make a profit
producing iron at the Beaver Iron Works. As local resources were
used up, iron production become less and less profitable. In
1873 the Beaver Valley Iron Works closed forever.
Today, along Route 1274, near Scranton, Kentucky, there is a
state historical marker that commemorates the Beaver Furnace.
This is not at the original site. The original site was covered
by the backwaters of Cave Run Lake some years ago. But there
on the side of the road are some of the original sandstone blocks,
the final remnants of the past glory that was the Beaver Furnace.
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