Taken from History of North Eastern Ohio, Vol. I, Book III, Chapter IV;
written by John Struthers Stewart; Historical Publishing Co., 1935
THE BEGINNINGS OF IRON MANUFACTURE
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The Mahoning Valley has long been famous as a great center in the iron and steel industry. At this time, the valley from Leavittsburg to Lowellville, a distance of about twenty-five miles, is lined along its entire course with a succession of blast furnaces, steel plants, rolling mills and the tube mills, so that villages and cities are joined together with scarcely an open space to make a great metropolitan district. The history of this development is one of the most important subject with which this history is concerned. The time has now arrived to narrate the humble beginnings from which this enormous industry grew.
To the writer, whose boyhood days were spent almost under the shadow of a blast furnace stack, and whose boyhood playground was the hollow where the first two furnaces were built, the story of iron making has always been of most romantic interest Some portion of this romance he will endeavor to transfer to these pages. The name of Dan Easton, the pioneer iron manufacturer, has nearly been forgotten, yet it should be commemorated, as that of one who started great things. Alas, poverty, neglect and misfortune were his portion, as it has happened to so may pioneers.
Among the other necessities of this new country, as the proprietors of the Connecticut Land Company saw it, was iron manufacture. To be sure, they has no knowledge of the existence of any of the raw materials of suck manufacture, except one; timber for charcoal. But in Their abiding faith in the natural resources of the Reserve they offered in 1802 a bounty of $400.00 to
the man who should, within three years from the First of January, 1803, “first erect a furnace in the county and should within that time manufacture therein ten tons of good hollow and hardware.” It must be remembered that such articles ofiron as the settlers need were most difficult of transportation across the mountains. It ws on of the greatest hardships of the first settlers that kettles, pans farm tools and building tools were scarce, dear and hard to obtain.
Daniel and James Heaton, brothers, came to the Reserve in 1803 with the idea of prospecting for a blast furnace site. In the little valley of Yellow Creek, they found outcroppings of iron ore, and in the neighborhood limestone deposits near the surface of the ground. This combination of circumstances induced them to plan the erection of a furnace on the edge of the hollow.
The spot on which they decided to locate is romantically and wildly beautiful. When the little stream of Yellow Creek leaves the Village of Poland it wanders in a series of three wide curves, the first two of which are now immersed under the waters of Lake Hamilton, one of the great reservoirs of the Ohio Water Service Company [Currently Aqua Water]. The third of these curves, beginning just at the base of the magnificent sixty-foot stone dame which impounds Lake Hamilton, beats against a solid wall of stone some seventy feet high and circles a little level plain banked on the west by a more gentle declivity. On this western hill, on a shelf about half way to the summit, the Heaton brothers planned to build their furnace.
James Heaton does not seem to have spent much time in Yellow Creek. By the year 1806, we find him in the Mill Creek valley, building another stack, and shortly later on Mosquito Creek, near Niles. Daniel was the real proprietor of the first furnace. The change of his name from “Daniel Heaton” to “Dan Eaton” was accomplished by legislative act shortly after he came to Ohio. The reason for the change is doubtful: Dan, as we shall call him from now on, had his qualities of eccentricity, like other geniuses. One ingenious theory is that Dan claimed kinship with that Theophilus Eaton who was a Sixteenth Century governor of Connecticut, a famous exponent of Presbyterianism and the “Blue Laws.” This is a good and explanation as any. “Dan Eaton” is more pleasant to say at any rate.
Dan called his stack “Hopewell Furnace.” Its ruins are in such a state of preservation that it is possible to describe with some accuracy the construction. The scene is still as beautiful as it was when Dan first saw it, and it is the hope of antiquarians of the valley that such action will soon by taken by state and local authorities that this most important point in Ohio history be permanently preserved. (see note at end of chapter.)
The stack was built of native sandstone (quarried from the creek walls in the immediate neighborhood.) It was circular in form; that is to say, a truncated cone. From firepot to bosh (the widest circumference) it rose about six feet; the remainder of its altitude being probably about fifteen feet more. The inner curve of the circumference was built into the stone wall of the bank itself. Beside the top of the stack a roadway of shelf leads from the top of the hill, and winds around the hillside to the edge of the little plain below, where it branches, one fork leading beside the race back uphill to the base of the furnace, the other across the little plain and probably down the stream. (note.—At the point where the furnace is built the hollow narrow, and just below opens into another plain some one hundred yards wide, bordered on the west by a sheer precipice about eighty feet high known locally as the “Devil’s Back-Bone.” The ice formations hanging from this wall in winter are worth a journey to see.) These roadways were undoubtedly constructed for the purpose of conducting furnace operation, taking the place of the modern furnace “skip,” or elevator. Along the roadside are evidences of the storage of charcoal and ore. At one spot near the top is the remnant of a large pile of charcoal—all of which must have been burned at least one hundred and twenty-five years ago.
The lining of the stack seems to have been partly brick, partly smaller sandstones. It seems likely to the writer that relining was done by a method of patching, rather than by the present method of complete re-lining at one time. This would account for the presence of both stone and brick. The practical furnace men who have examined the furnace differ widely in their opinions as to various points. The trouble is that no records exist as to methods of operation. Beside the stack is a little area some twenty-five to thirty feet in extent, which is no nearly level as to suggest that it was used as a casting-floor. There remains on the hillside below the stack a great pile of glassy slag, which removes from doubt the problem of slag disposal. The best preserved side of the furnace wall has a well constructed and deep recess in the stack, reinforced by an iron bar. Some experts have identified this opening as the furnace mouth. The objection to this theory is that the creek bank falls off precipitately just below this recess, so that it is difficult to see how the molten iron could have been cast on this side. A better theory is that through this opening ran the solitary tuyere of the furnace. (Note.—The tuyere, pronounced “tweer” by furnace men, is the passage by which the air-blast is introduced to the interior of the furnace.)