Page 20 - Discover Fall 2021
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Forging A Nation CONTINUED

      limestone, and charcoal, carried by wagons             incomplete combustion, producing charcoal.
      over a ten yard long bridge to the top of the          This method was used rather than shipping
      furnace.                                               the wood to a kiln, because it could be
                                                             done right where the wood was cut. A
             In 1779, a house was built near the
                                                             typical charcoal pit could process up to
      forge, and is known as “The Farm”. It was
                                                             30 cords of wood into charcoal, reaching
      built for Peter Saunders, who managed it. It
                                                             peak temperatures of around 750 degrees
      was later remodeled in 1850 as a Classical
      Revival Structure, and it still stands there
      today. The Farm at The Furnace was the first                  One might wonder: why not just use
      meeting place of the Franklin County Court             wood to fuel the forge instead of charcoal?
      in 1786.                                               A forge requires a steady, intense heat,
                                                             and charcoal burns much hotter and more
             Iron furnaces needed three important
                                                             evenly than seasoned wood. Charcoal also
      resources in order to operate: iron ore,
                                                             is much lighter and smaller in volume than
      plenty of timber, and a nearby water source.
                                                             an equivalent amount of wood. So it was
      The water was needed in order to power a
                                                             easier to transport to the forge than the wood
      waterwheel, which propelled the huge bellows
                                                             from which it was made. Cutting so much
      that fed air to the fire. This made Appalachia
                                                             timber might lead one to think that the area
      an ideal place to locate such iron forges.
                                                             would be quickly deforested, but even back
      It didn’t take many hands to operate the
                                                             then, forests were carefully managed, and the
      forge, but it many more people were needed
                                                             operation spanned across some 18,000 acres.
      in order to provide the mining, hauling,
      lumberjacking, and other support services.                    Washington Iron Furnace continued to
                                                             operate until 1850, when the Saunders family
             One of the more interesting aspects
                                                             stopped running it due to damage resulting
      of these services was the production of
                                                             from a dam break. The mines continued to
      charcoal. Today, we think of charcoal as
                                                             produce ore until about 1880, when the cost
      it comes in heavy paper bags for backyard
                                                             of shipping the ore to Pennsylvania became
      grilling. Those are actually called “charcoal
                                                             impractically high.
      briquets”, which are formed from a mixture
      of charcoal, sawdust, coal dust, and minerals.                In 1973, Washington Iron Furnace was
      True charcoal is different. It is produced by          added to the National Register of Historic
      men known as “colliers”. The process is very
                                                             Places. More recently, a grandson of the present
      labor-intensive; it requires the construction
                                                             owner of the property was playing near the
      of “charcoal pits”, huge mounds of densely-
                                                             furnace, and uncovered an old casting dated
      packed cut timber that is covered in leaves,
      followed by a layer of dirt, with a chimney in         1786. It is believed to be a product of the forge,
      the center.                                            and was probably made to be used as a fireback.
                                                             In any case, thanks in part to the forge itself and
             A fire is introduced into the chimney.
                                                             its place in history, the piece was undoubtedly
      The leaves insulate the wood from the dirt,
                                                             “Made in U.S.A”.
      and the dirt seals the wood from the air. This
      allows the wood to be “baked” or “roasted”,
      forcing the steam out of it, resulting in

      18     Discover Smith Mountain Lake  FALL 2021
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