The Forges of Lancaster County

Before there were Amish, there was iron. Peter Grubb found iron ore in the Cornwall Mountains, the richest vein ever found in Pennsylvania. In addition, the hills were covered with hardwood trees, perfect for making charcoal to smelt the ore (a forge could go through an acre a day) and there were fast-running streams to power the trip hammers to beat out the impurities.

Furnaces produced “pig iron,” which was then sent to forges to be made into “bar iron” that could be distributed to blacksmiths. In addition, most forges made stoves and other iron goods. During the Revolution and Civil War, of course, they made munitions.

The process was virtually unchanged until the 1850s, when anthracite coal was mined and blast furnaces were used, and iron production moved west to places like Pittsburgh.

Because of its distance from town, a forge had to be self-sustaining, employing farmers, lumbejacks, blacksmiths, horses, livestock, etc. Thus the iron master oversaw not just a forge, but a community.

Today, most of the forges are gone, with the exception of Cornwall Furnace, which is a pretty cool tour.