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.
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
Documentation includes a text report, 12 color
slides, and a flyer with map.
Originally submitted by: George W. Gekas, Representative (17th District).
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.