Harmony Forge Mansion
The Harmony Forge Mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2008, The Gombach Group.
The Harmony Forge Mansion property includes the Mansion, 4 other old buildings, and one important man-made historic landscape feature — the ruins of a canal. The industrial structures of Harmony Forge/Milesburg Iron Works and workers' houses have not survived.
Harmony Forge Mansion is a 2 1/2 story, 5-bay stone house, c. 1810-20, with a 2-story stone kitchen wing attached to its western end (recessed to the left of the facade). The kitchen wing appears to be no later than mid 19th century.
The main portion of the house measures 44 1/2 by 40 feet in plan. Walls are laid up of native limestone with construction being rubble stone — roughly coursed on the facade and uncoursed elsewhere. The kitchen wing measures 34 by 20 feet in plan.
The house has a steep gable roof with 3 dormers spaced evenly over the facade. A re-modeling of c. 1850 is evidenced in the form of Gothic vergeboard ornamentation on gable ends and dormers. Two brick chimneys protrude from the roof of the main section, are unequally inset from the gable ends, and reflect Gothic influence in the use of planar inserts, pointed arches, and decorative corbels. The kitchen wing has 2 brick chimneys with simple corbeling.
Windows throughout are 6-over-6, double hung sash and are graced with exterior shutters. Until the early 20th century, the windows immediately flanking the main entrance (one per side) extended to floor level. This prior state, perhaps an element of the c. 1850 remodeling, is recalled by the presence of iron lintels above these two windows.
The front entrance displays an 8-paneled door with rectangular transom. Flanking this are fluted pilasters which visually support a pedimented roof above. This treatment is not original but is appropriate, being in the spirit of Georgian Revival.
Certain alterations were made to the house in our century including an addition of a 1-story screened porch on the right end of the main section and the construction of a small utility room on the end of the kitchen wing. A small balcony has been cantilevered from the 2nd floor of the wing (front elevation) and, to the right of this, a portion of wooden-clad wall has been painted to simulate stone.
The interior of the house follows a center hall plan with a single large parlor to the right of the hall and a dining room and kitchen to the left. An interesting feature of this plan is that it utilizes both an end chimney (with fireplace in the parlor) and a chimney between two rooms (kitchen and dining room).
The present staircase, the principal interior feature, dates to the early Victorian era. It is one of the dog-leg'd type and possesses a sturdy octagonal newel, walnut handrail and turned maple balusters.
The character of interior detailing has been predominately established by the various remodelings from the period 1850-1925. Some features have unfortunately been lost including the large kitchen fireplace and the dining room and parlor mantelpieces. Nonetheless, the interior retains a sense of dignity and fine craftsmanship appropriate to the age and history of the house.
Other buildings on the property include 2 barns associated with the mansion. One of them is quite large, measuring 22 by 36 by 76 feet. The other, nearer to the Mansion, is smaller and presumably older, displaying a heavy timber construction, c. 1850 or earlier.
A 2 story brown-shingled house stands near the creek, south of the Mansion. This building is thought to have once served as an office and company store. Its architecture is traditional and simple and suggests dating the house to the latter half of the 19th century.
Sitting near this house to the east across a private drive is a one-story brick building 22 feet square in plan and covered with a hip roof. This building, dating to the end of the 19th century, served as an office for the ironworks.
Finally, the Harmony Forge Mansion property contains over 2,000 feet of earthworks which survive marking the course of the Bald Eagle and Spring Creek Navigation Company canal which connected Bellefonte with the West Branch Division of the Pennsylvania Canal at Lock Haven. This element is a clearly visible man-made depression in the earth, accompanied occasionally by stone wall construction. Ruins of two of the 28 locks of the 25 mile canal are found within the boundaries of this resource. Lock #4, near the Mansion, is one of the bet preserved canal locks of this system. Lock #5, near the Milesburg Borough line, is relatively deteriorated. This portion of the canal was built c. 1847.
Harmony Forge Mansion is a landmark of the charcoal iron industry which prospered in central Pennsylvania following the American Revolution. In Centre County, erected in 1800, the iron industry brought considerable prosperity and national prominence. The iron works at Harmony Forge, eventually known as the Milesburg Iron Works, grew and diversified during the 19th century. It operated longer than any other iron works in Centre County, running from 1795 into the early years of the 20th century.
Constructed by Joseph Miles c. 1810-20, the Mansion remains to recall an era of considerable prosperity afforded by the iron industry. Over its long history, as home to a distinguished succession of iron-masters and their managers, the Mansion served as the site of important business meetings and social gatherings.
Local iron industry was favored by the presence of abundant quantities of high quality iron ore, timber for charcoal, and limestone and the power of rushing streams. One limitation on the industry was its remote location from eastern markets. An early project to alleviate this situation was to construct a canal linking the source of iron of the Bellefonte area with the West Branch (Susquehanna River) Division of the Pennsylvania Canal. Established in 1834, the Bald Eagle and Spring Creek Navigation Company sold stock to fund the construction of this canal. Construction was completed as far as Howard Furnace in 1837 but was not completed to Bellefonte until 1848. The Mansion's landscape setting includes clearly visible earthwork and the remains of Locks #4 and #5 of this canal.
The iron forge at Harmony Forge was built in 1795 as a joint venture of ironmaster John Dunlop and the firm of Miles, Patton and Miles, owners of Centre Furnace (1792). Harmony Forge was meant to operate in conjunction with Centre Furnace and would render pig iron. Competitive ironmasters is said to have supplied the name "Harmony" Forge.
Colonel Samuel Miles 1740-1805) was an important figure in the development of the (now) Centre County area. Miles, who had gained familiarity with the resources of central Pennsylvania during his service in the Indian wars, purchased some 9,000 acres of land in Brush Valley (eastern Centre County) at the early date of 1772. His brothers Richard (1739-1823) and James (1744-1798) cleared land and settled in this area prior to the Indian troubles of 1778.
In 1792 Colonel Miles purchased the tracts of land along Bald Eagle and Spring Creeks which would contain the sites of Harmony Forge and the town of Milesburg. In May of that year he attended the blowing in of Centre Furnace.
Colonel Miles, a resident of Montgomery County, never settled in Centre County but sent his sons John (1778-1829) and Joseph (1780-1841) to manage his iron interests and to lay out a town. In 1793 the town of "Milesborough", now Milesburg, was laid out according to Colonel Miles' design.
The Miles boys were joined in Centre County by Joseph Green, Sr. (1765-18391, a skilled carpenter who is traditionally credited with being the "architect" of the forge and the Mansion. Green managed Harmony Forge and in 1825 became a partner with Joseph Miles. His son, Joseph Green, Jr. (1800-1880) married Joseph Miles' daughter, Catherine, in 1828, and was himself manager at Harmony Forge for several years, beginning in 1840. In 1852 his son, J. Miles Green, joined him in management of the Milesburg works.
Other Miles family members in the area were James Miles and Richard Miles who had returned to Centre County in the 1790's, settling near Milesburg. Richard's son, Evan (1769-1838) was prominent as a local ironmaster. He and his father established Bellefonte Forge in 1797.
Colonel Miles died in 1805 and his sons assumed control of the operation of Harmony Forge and Centre Furnace. In 1809 they decided to close Centre Furnace, which was in need of extensive repair, and to concentrate their efforts on Harmony Forge.
In 1817 a furnace was built at Harmony Forge and in 1819, a rolling and slitting mill, a grist mill, and a saw mill. In 1818 John Miles deeded his share of the iron business to his brother, Joseph, in trust.
By 1826, the Milesburg works had increased in size and was one of the most productive operations in the County. Linn (1883) quoted an 1826 issue of the Bellefonte Patriot newspaper which reported the "Milesborough" Forge producing 400 tons of bar iron annually. Miles and Green added a nail factory at Harmony Forge in this year and also returned Centre Furnace to blast. In 1830 an accidental fire destroyed the nail factory, rolling mill, and saw mill. These works, however, were immediately rebuilt and were improved.
During the mid-1800's the Milesburg Iron Works changed ownership several times. In 1832, Joseph Miles, one of the original Harmony Forge ironmasters, sold an interest in Centre Furnace and the Milesburg works to General James Irvin and the firm became "James Irvin and Company." In 1836 Joseph Green sold his interest to General Huston who soon, in turn, sold to Andrew Gregg, Jr. The firm name became Irvin, Gregg and Company.
In 1849 Gregg retired and James Harris Linn, Dr. Jon M. McCoy and Moses Thompson succeeded him as partners with General James Irvin. The firm, then known as Irvin, McCoy and Company, rebuilt the Milesburg Forge and Mill in 1849-50. Lesley (1859) listed the works as having 4 forge fires, 2 puddling fires, and 2 hammers driven by water. He reported that in 1856 the forge turned out 615 tons of bloom. Irvin, McCoy and Company also increased their holdings by buying out other local furnaces and plants.
Several changes took place in the 1860's. James Irvin withdrew in 1860 and in 1865 Moses Thompson sold his interest to his partners James Linn and John McCoy. Improvements to the works included a wire mill in 1862 and a blast furnace in 1866.
After the deaths of James H. Linn in 1876 and Dr. McCoy in 1879 the firm's name remained the same but business was carried out by Dr. McCoy's son, Frank, and the Dr.'s son-in-law, Jr. Dunlop Shugert. Linn (1883) cited the plant's annual capacity as 3,000 tons for the blast furnace; 1,600 tons for the forge; 3,500 tons for the rolling mill, and 300 tons for the wire mill. Most of the manufactured material was shipped to New England. In 1890 the wire mill was transformed into a chain mill.
By 1911 only the Milesburg Iron Works and the Bald Eagle Iron Works at Curtin were left in Centre County as representatives of the old iron industry. New economic realities created by the discovery of Mesabi iron and the rise of Pittsburgh steel had long since spelled the demise of the industry.
Despite the celebrity of Harmony Forge in the industrial history of the County, little can be proved concerning the date of the mansion or who lived there at any point in time. Historical accounts have traditionally dated the mansion as being contemporaneous with the inception of the iron works in the 1790's. Linn (1883, p. 265) credits Joseph Miles with the construction of the house in 1793. Mitchell (1952-58, p. 105) wrote that the house was built in 1793-94 under the direction of Joseph Green. Miles (1838, p. 23) said that Harmony Forge Mansion was built in 1790 by Samuel Miles for his sons and that Colonel Miles stayed there during his several visits to the County.
Although no primary evidence has been found which can prove or disprove these contentions, there are several points which favor placing the mansion c. 1810-20:
- the lack of comparable pre-1800 buildings in the county
- the observation that at other early Centre County iron works, namely Rock Forge (1793) and Centre Furnace (1792), mansions were not built at the same time as the onset of industry, but some years later. The Benner Mansion at Rock was built in 1813 and Centre Furnace Mansion, c. 1830.
- the lack of a citation for the Mansion in the U.S. Direct Tax Lists (the "Glass Tax") of 1798
- activity at the Harmony Forge site from 1809-20. The Miles's closed Centre Furnace in 1809 to concentrate on Harmony Forge. In 1817-18 a furnace was added and in 1819, a rolling and slitting mill, a grist mill, and a saw mill.
- buildings of comparable scale and character in the Bellefonte area from about 1810 onwards including, significantly, the residence built by Joseph Miles, ironmaster of Harmony Forge, in Bellefonte in 1814-16 which is known today as the Miles-Humes House (listed on the National Register).
Pinpointing occupancy of the Mansion in the early years seems all but impossible given the size of the Miles clan and the complex history of the ownership and operation of the Milesburg and Centre Furnace plants. It is known that Joseph Miles had a child, Catherine, born at Centre Furnace in 1805 and another, James, born at Milesburg in 1808. This, of course, is scant evidence for documenting occupancy and, moreover, leaves unanswered the question of exactly which buildings stood at the time. After Miles built his house in Bellefonte in 1814-16 it seems doubtful that he would have had need of the large Harmony Forge Mansion for himself. Richard Miles has been suggested as the first occupant of the Mansion (Montgomery, 1977). According to this version, Joseph Green and Joseph Miles built the house for Richard who apparently lived there until his death in 1823.
John Miles, who had been practicing law in Philadelphia and in Bellefonte and who held a government post at the U.S. Arsenal near Gray's Ferry on the Schuylkill River until 1811 or 1812, returned to Milesburg to live in 1814 (Miles, p. 25). This fact furnishes the possibility that his arrival had something to do with the construction of the Mansion. It is to be noted, however, that John Miles, who lived until 1829, relinquished active partnership in the iron works to his brother in 1818.
Joseph Green, manager of Harmony Forge and partner from 1825, was probably one of the earliest occupants. James Irvin, who became part owner of the iron works in 1832, is said to have lived in the mansion for a while.
Occupancy of the mansion becomes clearer after the mid 19th century. James Harris Linn appears to have occupied the house from about 1849 until his death in 1876. After Linn's death the Mansion became the McCoy family home. The house is currently the residence of Mr. and Mrs. James T. Caldwell and Mrs. Caldwell's brother, Frank McCoy. Mrs. Caldwell and her brother are great-grandchildren of ironmaster, Dr. John M. McCoy.
Harmony Forge Mansion belongs to a small but historically significant group of local buildings which were the plantation houses for the early iron industries. Others surviving in Centre County are: Bellefonte Forge House (c.1810); and the mansions of Centre Furnace (c.1830, National Register); Bald Eagle Iron Works at Curtin (1830, National Register), Logan Furnace (1798, 1818 - National Register) and Martha Furnace Mansion (1830).
Built on the initiative of Joseph Miles and his manager Joseph Green, c. 1810-20, Harmony Forge Mansion possesses the large size and architecture refinement which distinguish the ironmasters' houses from other dwellings of the same period.
While features of the mansion have been modified over the years according to changing tastes and requirements, the effect has been to strengthen the building's architectural interest rather than to diminish its integrity. The addition of the vergeboard trim, c. 1850, has for instance provided a fine example of the influence of the Gothic style on local domestic architecture. Centre County has very few examples of this style from its prime era of influence.
Other improvements made to the building have respected the character of the original construction and witness both the prosperity and good taste of successive owners. It appears that the building has never been neglected and has, for many years, been cherished as an historical landmark. Standing today in excellent condition, Harmony Forge Mansion reflects a history of wealth and refinement made possible by the iron business.
Transportation and Commerce
The Bald Eagle and Spring Creek Navigation Company was formed in 1834 as a subscription enterprise to build a stillwater link between the Bellefonte iron region and the West Branch Division of the Pennsylvania Canal at Lock Haven. Completed to Bellefonte in 1848, the canal greatly improved commerce between the Bellefonte area and eastern markets. The utility of the canal, was however, short-lived. Construction of a major railroad through the Bald Eagle Valley (1856-64) and a devastating flood of 1865 marked the end of the local canal era.
Preservation of that portion of the canal remaining on the Harmony Forge property is especially important in light of the inundation of a large segment of the 25 mile canal route by the Foster Joseph Sayers Dam project (completed in 1969). While other remnants can be found by exploring the canal route, the approximately 2,000 foot section on the Harmony Forge property can be easily read from well-travelled Route 144. It is the most visually accessible reminder of the canal in Centre County.