Historic Places in South Jersey

Historic Places in South Jersey

A discussion of historic sites, and events, with the purpose of sharing, encouraging participation, and networking.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The sword in the Stone

Hopewell Furnace Trip
Having been an off and on again poet all my life, it seemed to me that the myth of the sword in the stone from the tales of the Knights of the Round Table was actually a metaphor for the closely guarded secret of extracting iron from rock.  Druids were both close with their secrets and often practised the art of blacksmithing.  When the quality of the metal in you sword was the difference between life and death, freedom and slavery, this was a very important secret.

Coming up to the 20th century, I've always had an interest in iron as my father was an Ironworker.  Both of my brothers followed him into that trade.  Of course, today, that means creating sky scrapers from steel and reinforced concrete and has nothing to do with smelting or forging or smithing, nonetheless, iron has always held an allure to me.

Despite the fact that I have read Martha Furnace Diary and other books, I have to confess that the process of smelting iron in the Colonial period remained hazy in my comprehension until I visited Hopewell Furnace recently.
I was visiting this National Historic Site with friends and fellow volunteers from Batsto Village and Atsion Mansion.  Barbara Solem, organiziner of the volunteers of Atsion Mansion, arranged this enriching field trip for us and she drove.  It was about an hour and a half drive to 2 Mark Bird Lane in Elverson, Pa.

We had a truly generous and fascinating tour guide who, because we were also volunteers, gave us some behind the scenes glipses as well as a fully informative and interesting .tour.  This site is miraculously intact, thanks both to the Civilian Conservation Corps and the the Pa. and Fed. governments which recognized its significance and saved it from decay and development into something else. 

The furnace and the waterwheel are amazingly intact and between the guide, the film in the fisitors' center, and the buildings, I finally realized the process
from forest and mine to stove and kettle.  This blog is too short a place to give you the full story, far too much for a conversation without boring the listener to death, so I'll simply say that we toured an area that dexribed how colliers transformed trees into charcoal, the charcoal storage barn, the bridge to the furnace where the lime, and iron are dumped into the stack in layers and then
the chardoal is set ablaze, the water wheel pumpling the air bellows to increase the heat.  Finally at the foot of the furnace was the are where the molten iron ran out into channels to form pig iron, or into huge containers for dipping the molten iron out for molding. 

Finally, I understood molding and the molders art thanks to the excellent film in the visotr's center, and voila' we get a stove or a fireplace back (after many steps in between, of course!)

Friends have arrived for a walk and I must stop for now.  More later!

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