Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site is located near Elverson, PA. I just happened to be visiting that area during their September apple festival, so I made sure to spend some time there.
The site is called an “iron plantation” and was in operation from 1771 to 1883. It is called a plantation because the site was isolated out in the woods and centered on iron-making. In addition to the iron furnace, there were workers and buildings used to fulfill community needs. All of these functions made the furnace mostly self-sufficient.
The furnace was very important during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. The ironworkers learned to make iron cannons, shot and shells for each war. Aside from the wars, the furnace specialized in making iron stoves.
The buildings open for the apple festival included the blast furnace used to make the iron, blacksmith shop, company store, ironmaster’s mansion, a charcoal-making hearth and some of the tenant houses. Re-enactors in colonial dress demonstrated crafts and visitors could pick their own apples.
Below is the ironmaster’s mansion. It is beautifully renovated and contains Victorian style furnishings.
The furnace needed huge amounts of charcoal that was made on the plantation. Charcoal took long hours of constant tending so the fires would smolder steadily at the right temperature in the pit instead of becoming an open fire. Below is one of the huts the colliers or charcoal tenders used while working. Just a little difference between the two buildings!
The water wheel supplied the power to push compressed air into the blast furnace. This air was essential to achieve a furnace temperature of over 2800 degrees.
There was also a blacksmithing demonstration.
After 1850, newer furnaces used coal instead of charcoal but Hopewell Furnace could not economically make the switch due to the high cost of shipping coal. This eventually made the furnace obsolete.
We had a lovely, sunny September day and really enjoyed the apple festival. Afterward, we stopped by nearby St. Peters Village so some members of our group could play pinball on a few of the restored machines there!