Sunday, August 16, 2009

Where in the world am I?

When I first walked up to this structure all I could say was “Wow!”. How far south did I drive—certainly not all the way down to Mexico. I swear I was looking at something built by the Mayans or the Aztecs, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t make it all the way up to southern Ohio. OK, you had to be there, but with all the lush greenery surrounding this uniquely built charcoal furnace it was certainly a stunning sight. You’re looking at the remains of Madison Furnace, Jackson County (38.939°, -82.524°) in an area of southern Ohio and northern Kentucky known as the Hanging Rock Iron Region.

The furnaces of this region produced charcoal iron from 1818 to 1916, and there were anywhere from 69 to 80 furnaces spread throughout the 100-mile long by 30-mile wide area. Furnaces were usually made of sandstone block which makes Madison Furnace unique as it is one of only two or three that were carved, at least in part, from solid sandstone. I think that’s why it struck me as something from another civilization. I’ll spare you, at least for now, how the whole blast furnace process works, but let me just say that all the trees you see surrounding this furnace would not have been there in it’s heyday. Since trees were necessary to make the charcoal that fueled the furnaces the acres and acres surrounding each furnace were heavily denuded of timber. That’s one of many reasons for their ultimate demise.

Now we’re looking up the stack of the furnace from the inside. Very mystical with the color of the sandstone lit only by the sun from above, the roots of the invading plants reaching down, and the constant buzz of the colony of wasps going about their business. Totally cool!

The furnace was lined by fire brick which are mostly gone now. Some were still in place in the cracks and crevices of the sandstone, while a few rested on the floor. I do not know which brick manufacturer fired this brick, but I left it in place for others to discover.

Ohio is one of the few states to have restored an abandoned furnace to its former glory. Buckeye Furnace, also located in Jackson County (39.056°, -82.457°) was restored by the Ohio Historical Society, but is now managed by the Friends of Buckeye Furnace. You can see that the stone structure was only a small part of the entire operation. It’s an interesting place to visit and highlights an important industrial era in Ohio.

I’ll be visiting other abandoned furnaces in the future and will give more details on the industry as I go.