Photo: Barn and Mansion, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Union Township, Berks County, PA. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Photographed by User:Smallbones (own work), 2011, [cc-by-1.0 (creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed June, 2015.
The Hopewell Village National Historic Site was designated in the 1930s, purchased by the federal government, and used as a Works Progress Administration project to employ people working on its restoration. In 1985 the name was changed to the "Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of National Register documentation. [‡]
The core of the "site" (848 acres) is contained within the much larger (7,300-plus acres) French Creek State Park. The majority of the land area of the state park lies within Union Township, Berks County, with portions across the county line in Warwick Township in Chester County.
The Hopewell Village National Historic Site is a 848.06 acre unit of the National Park System operated as a restored ironmaking community. Of these 848.06 acres, approximately 635 are in woodlands historically associated with the Furnace, and 140 are in farmlands, meadows and pasturelands designed to preserve the historic character of the area.
Most of the historic structures are located within a contiguous area in the western section of the Park. Clustered here are the Charcoal Furnace, water wheel and blast machinery, Charcoal House and Cooling Shed, Bridge House, Village Barn, Connecting Shed and the Cast House. Visible from the general area of these industrial structures are portions of the two headraces constructed to carry water from Hopewell Lake and Baptism Creek to the water wheel, as well as the tail race which carried the runoff iron the blast machinery to French Creek.
In the general vicinity of the furnace Complex are other structures and ruins, including Ore master Ruin, Charcoal Kiln Ruins, Wheelwright Shop Ruin, Anthracite Furnace Ruin and Blacksmith Shop. Also nearby is the Furnace Office Store. South of the industrial complex, along Warwick Mine mad are Tenant Houses # 1,2, and 3, 'tenant House #3 Barn, the Boarding House and School House Ruin. Still further along this historic road are the Nathan Care House and Barn. The gardens and yards of the Tenant Houses have been restored to their historic appearance and the Village pasture is populated with animals appropriate to the historic period.
Overlooking the industrial complex and Tenant Houses from a prominent position on a hill is the Ironmaster's House along with its dependencies; the Bake Ovens, Spring House, Greenhouse Ruin, Smoke House and garden. The structures within the industrial complex have been restored and furnished to show tow the Furnace complex operated, and the housing and other structures have been restored to give a glimpse of hew the residents of the Hopewell Village community lived. The major focus of the restoration program has been the 1820-1840 period, although some structures and additions constructed after those dates have also been retained. All of the historic structures, both industrial and residential, have been painted to simulate their historic appearance. The Greenhouse Ruin as well as other industrial and residential ruins have been stabilized. Several of the structures have had their interiors modernized for administrative and residential use.
In addition to these restored structures and buildings, the Park has numerous original objects and manuscripts that are associated with the operations of the Furnace at various periods. These items include some 10,000 original documents dating from the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, concerning business operations of the Furnace and property; a collection of photographs dating as early as 1887 which document the historic Scene and the changing appearance of the site through successive restoration efforts; approximately 4,000 period pieces used to furnish the historic structures; and approximately 250,000 archaeological artifacts that materially represent 112 years of domestic and industrial life at Hopewell. Perhaps the most significant single object is a six-plate stove with the inscriptions, "1772 Mark Bird" and "Hopewell Furnace" prominent. Many other products of the Furnace, including two Hopewell Franklin Fireplaces, two Hopewell firebacks and twelve Hopewell stoves are in the collection.
Other cultural features are located outside of the Village. The Bethesda Baptist Church is located at the eastern edge of the Park's boundary; the John Church House and its dependencies are located at the Park's entrance, considerably east of the Ironmaster's House. The Brison House Ruin, Harrison Lloyd House Ruin, and Woodlot House Ruin are located in isolated sections of the woodlands. Also located within the woodlands are numerous cultural features that are associated with the past industrial uses of the property, but presently remain unmapped and undocumented. These include the remains of charcoal pits, wagon roads, collier huts, as well as various unidentified stone structures.
Most of the woodlands originally associated with the Furnace are now outside of the Park's boundary, but the woodlands that are part of the Park give a good idea of the Furnace's voracious consumption of charcoal. In contrast to its historic appearance the woodlands presently do not have clear cut tracts. In addition, while the Furnace woodlands were primarily chestnut, the present woodlands are poplar, gum, beech, sassafras, sycamore, black walnut and various species of oak. Also located within the woodlands are three streams, portions of the head races and hiking trails. There are large populations of deer, pheasant, grouse, opossum, and other animals, and the land is used for nature study, hiking and horseback riding. A modern intrusion within the woodlands is a Utility Corridor, which appears as a clear cut tract, 30 feet wide and 5,000 feet long with 30-foot tall utility poles. A less conspicuous intrusion in the woods is the Baptism Creek Shelter.
Those lands under agricultural usage include 92 acres in crops historically associated with the site including corn, oats and wheat and 40 acres in meadow and pasture land. There is also an extensive apple orchard containing approximately 200 trees, located near the Visitor Center. This particular orchard was planted in 1940 and 1959, on the site of the historic orchard that dates back as early as 1787. Although the trees are probably not the original varieties, they are varieties historically associated with the area. In addition, the tree trunks have been painted to simulate their historic white-washing.
Other modern intrusion are located at various points in the Park. Overlooking the Village and industrial complex from a prominent position is the Visitor Center. Nearby is the parking lot and immediately north is a complex of maintenance, residential and storage facilities.
Surrounding the Park on three sides are French Creek State Park and State Game Lands comprising approximately 8,000 acres. These lands are used for recreational purposes including hunting, hiking and swimming.
Buildings and Sites Contributing to the Character of the District Structures:
All historic structures operated as museums unless otherwise noted.
Citations on historic structures, from John Dodd, "Classified Structure Field Inventory Report," March 31, 1976, prepared for most individual historic structures within park. Supplemental information provided by Park records and staff.
The historical significance of Hopewell Village National Historic Site lies in its association with the American Revolution, as well as its long life as an industrial community, representative of the hundreds of charcoal ironworks which once flourished in the Eastern United States.
The Furnace's association with the American Revolution was through the finished products manufactured there, as well as through the activities of its original owner, Mark Bird. The products cast at the Furnace changed over time, but the most significant were the cannon, shot and shell, all used to equip the Continental forces. In addition to arming the patriots, Mark Bird was involved in a variety of political activities that supported the revolutionary cause. "Before the outbreak of the war, Mark Bird served on the Committee on Observation and the Committee of Correspondence and was chosen to the Provincial Conference of 1775." During the war, he served as a colonel in the Berks County Militia, and as such "was credited with providing uniforms, tents and provisions for three hundred men at his own expense". In February 1778 he, as deputy quartermaster general, shipped 1,000 bushels of flour to George Washington and his army, who were wintering at Valley Forge. But beyond Hopewell's association with the American Revolution, the industrial complex as well as the associated community structures all serve to illustrate life on an iron plantation in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The focus and center of the industrial complex and community was the cold-blast charcoal fueled furnace used to smelt iron ore. Built in 1771 and operated until 1883, the Furnace is a fieldstone structure, thirty-two and one-half feet, high "hollow from top to bottom." with an inner layer of fire resistant brick. At the tunnel head (top), the charge used in the smelting process was loaded. The charge consisted of limestone which served as flux to hasten the removal of impurities, charcoal which served as the fuel, and iron ore. After being loaded, the charge settled down to the widest section of the Furnace, the bosh, where the main smelting took place. The molten iron and slag from the ore's impurities then dripped into a narrow chamber, called the crucible. Near the bottom of the crucible the tuyere arch was located, which admitted a blast of cold air produced by bellows. The air blast allowed the fuel to burn at super high temperatures. The bellows were powered by a wooden water wheel with the water supplied by way of two head races diverting water from nearby streams and a lake. The Furnace and Cast House, which housed storage and casting facilities, were constructed next to a bank to permit the easy transport of the raw materials and finished products within the industrial complex.
The Hopewell site was well suited for iron making in that all the necessary materials were readily available. The iron ore was obtained from mines located on Furnace acreage; the limestone obtained from neighbors or mined from Furnace quarries; the charcoal produced from nearby woodlands; and the water obtained from nearby streams. But of all the requisite materials, it was the charcoal that most shaped the nature of the Hopewell Furnace community.
The Furnace required several thousand tons of charcoal each year, which in turn necessitated up to seven thousand cords of wood to produce. Accordingly, the Furnace property at various times included vast woodlands ranging from 3,900 to 8,000 acres. The necessity of being located near these vast woodlands imposed a degree of physical isolation on the Furnace community, which in turn required that the community provide many services for its employees. A considerable amount of resources and effort were devoted to producing and providing foodstuffs. Although most of the acreage associated with the Furnace was devoted to woodlands, many acres were also devoted to farming, gardening and animal raising. Field crops such as oats, corn, wheat, rye and buckwheat were raised, as were such vegetables as beets, cabbage, potatoes and spinach. There were also at various times both peach and apple orchards. In addition, farm animals such as cows, sheep, hogs, chicken and turkeys were raised, and work animals such as horses, mules and oxen were used. The farms were owned by the Furnace partners, but often cultivated by farmers who had reciprocal arrangements with the Furnace. In addition, some of the surrounding neighbors of the Furnace had accounts at the Furnace store, trading crops and vegetables for blacksmith services and iron products. Many of these foodstuffs, were used to feed the ironmaster and his family, as well as the employees who boarded. Available for purchase at the Furnace store were a wide variety of clothing, fabrics, personal care and household items, as well as food items. In addition, the ironmaster hired a teacher to educate his children, and children of Furnace employees attended classes on a tuition basis. Accordingly, the Furnace with its historic roads, industrial structures, houses, farming and gardening areas, barns, store, school building, church and woodlands serves to illustrate not only the charcoal iron production process, but the infrastructure that developed to support that industrial process as well.
The number and variety of workers employed at Hopewell Furnace reflected the complexity of operations there. The most prominent person was the ironmaster who was usually a partner in the Furnace. He had ultimate responsibility for the success of the entire enterprise, from securing raw materials, producing the iron, marketing and transporting the finished product, to providing room and board for some employees. The clerk managed the Furnace store and kept employee and Furnace records. At the Furnace itself, the most important employee was the founder who along with his assistant, the keeper, was responsible for the supervision of Furnace employees as well as the quality of the iron and finished products. In addition to the series of workers responsible for charging, tending and tapping the Furnace, there were skilled artisans who produced moulds and cast the finished iron products. Those workers engaged in securing raw materials for the Furnace included woodcutters, colliers and their assistants, who produced charcoal, and miners who extracted iron ore and quarried limestone. There were many teamsters employed by the Furnace to transport wood, charcoal, iron ore, limestone, finished products and farm products, both within the Hopewell community and to outside markets. Other skilled workers employed by the Furnace included blacksmiths, carpenters and wheelwrights. There were also a variety of domestic workers, often drawn from the families of Furnace employees, who gardened, cooked and worked as servants to the ironmaster's family and housekeepers to the boarding employees.
The Hopewell Furnace was sold by Mark Bird in 1788 and in 1800 came into the ownership of the Buckley and Brooke families who owned it until the site was purchased by the Federal Government in 1935. It was under the ownership of the Buckley and Brooke families that the Furnace was most profitable. Produced by the Buckley and Brooke management were a variety of cooking utensils, farm machinery, wheels, weights, gratings and flat irons, but the most profitable and well known item was the Hopewell stove. The market for the Hopewell stove, which was produced in a variety of different designs and sizes, was wide, and expanded as road, rail and canal routes improved from the Hopewell site to major population centers. At the same time that the Hopewell Furnace was producing stoves and other finished products, it also continued to produce pig iron which was sold to forges as raw material to be manufactured into finished products.
In 1844, the Furnace stopped producing stoves and concentrated on pig iron, which signaled a change in the fortunes of the Hopewell Furnace as well as others furnaces that employed a similar technology. During the mid-nineteenth century the charcoal iron furnace industry faced competition from anthracite-fueled hot blast iron furnaces, which could make their product less expensively. The use of anthracite coal for fuel, readily available in large quantities in southeastern Pennsylvania, obviated the need for large tracts of woodland, and not only allowed the iron to be produced more economically, but also permitted the Furnace to be located closer to the market place. In addition, using coal instead of charcoal as fuel allowed more iron ore to be smelted at one time, which again gave anthracite a competitive advantage over charcoal. The Buckley-Brooke management tried to meet the challenge by building an anthracite furnace in 1853. The experiment was a failure, partly because the process required additional materials not readily available, but also because the anthracite had to be shipped by canal then hauled to the furnace, with the finished product making the reverse, long and expensive trip. The change in fortunes at Hopewell Furnace was temporarily reversed due to a dramatic increase in demand for pig iron during the Civil War. After the war, the demand for pig iron remained high due to the expansion of the railroad system and the development of many new uses for iron. To accommodate this increased production, new fire resistant inwalls were installed in the Furnace in 1869.
Although during the last few years of operation, there were many signals pointing to the eventual close of the Furnace, the management continued to make repairs and improvements to keep the Furnace in blast. In 1872, Hopewell's iron mines were leased to another iron company; and in 1874, 1877, and 1878 the Furnace was out of blast. The Furnace resumed operations in 1880, only to be shutdown again during the winter of 1881, because the water wheel froze. To prevent a similar situation in the future, a supplementary power supply for the blast machinery was provided by a boiler and steam engine. The next year an ore roaster, designed to remove impurities before the ore was smelted, was constructed. The improvements and repairs came to an end in June, 1883, when the Furnace was permanently shutdown.
From 1883 to 1935 the Hopewell site was put to a variety of uses. The Brooke family used the Ironmaster's mansion as a summer home until 1917. The east wing was occupied by managers of the property. During the 1890s, the extensive woodlands were used to cut fence posts and rails, which were sold at market. The woodlands were also used to produce charcoal, but instead of being used as fuel at the Furnace it was sold as the final product. Limestone was quarried on the property, and the Pottstown Iron Company worked the iron mines. During this period the Cast House complex fell into a state of disrepair. The other structures continued to be used for farming operations and as residences, with appropriate alterations made for modern use. The blast machinery was dismantled, and donated to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia for its historic value. A shed was built on the site to temporarily house the blast machine but before it was removed, the site was purchased by the Federal Government.
One of the institutions associated with the Furnace community which continued in use after the close of the Furnace was Bethesda Church. The church, originally known as Lloyds Meeting House, was constructed about 1782. Although not part of the Furnace proper, its members were historically drawn from the Furnace community; in 1830 most of its members were Hopewell Furnace employees. Another building that bears special notation is the Ironmaster's House. Architecturally it illustrates changes in aesthetic values and style from the time of its original construction until the closing of the Furnace. One can contrast the Federal mantel in the dining room with the High Victorian-Baroque Revival mantels in the parlor. The windows in the parlor have had their sills lowered as was typical of the latter half of the nineteenth century. Technological evolution is illustrated by the important bathroom addition that illustrates the beginning of modern plumbing; and the installation of larger panes of glass in some of the first floor rooms, as opposed to the presence of smaller and earlier panes in the older sections of the house.[l2]
In 1935, the Federal government purchased Hopewell Furnace and approximately 6,200 acres of land with the primary purpose of developing a park and recreational area. Beginning in 1934, two Civilian Conservation Corps Camps and the Works Progress Administration Program were located here. Hiking trails, campsites and picnic areas were constructed on the acreage, and French Creek, which in an earlier time had supplied the Furnace's water wheel, was damned to create Hopewell Lake. Through the research of a National Park Service historian, the historical significance of the Hopewell Furnace community was recognized, and a restoration of the site as an industrial village was recommended. Accordingly, CCC labor was involved in the restoration of some of the structures, including the Furnace stack and East Head Race. Additionally, the WPA interviewed local area residents who remembered the Furnace, conducted archeological investigations, and researched local and state archives. In 1938, the Hopewell Furnace was designated Hopewell Village National Historic Site, because of its "relationship to the colonial history of the United States." At this time, the site had 214 acres associated with it. In 1942 when the CCC program was abolished, the historic site was expanded to nearly 6,200 acres.
In 1947, all but 848.06 acres were deeded to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for use as a recreational area. Presently Hopewell Village National Historic Site is 848.06 in acres and contains many of the industrial and community structures, and a portion of the woodlands, historically associated with the Furnace.
Major Bibliographical References
Russell Apple and Earl Heydinger. "Historic Base Map for Hopewell Village NHS." National Park Service, 1956. 1965.
Arthur Cecil Bining. Pennsylvania Iron Manufacture in the Eighteenth Century. Harrisburg: Pennsylvania Historical Commission, 1938 and 1913.
John B. Dodd. Numerous unpublished "Classified Structure Field Inventory Reports" for historic structures at Hopewell Village NHS, March 31, 1976.
Charles E. Funnell. "The Elusive Ordnance of Colonel Bird." National Park Service,.1976.
Jackson Kemper, III. American Charcoal Making in the Era of the Cold-blast Furnace. Hopewell Village NHS, n.d.
W. Davis Lewis. Iron and Steel in America. Greenville, Delaware: The Hagley Museum, 1976.
W. David Lewis and Walter Hugins. Hopewell Furnace: A Guide to Hopewell Village National Historic Site. Washington, DC: National Park Service, 1983.
National Park Service: Numerous unpublished Historic Structures Reports, Archeological Studies, Special History Studies for Hopewell Village NHS.
Peter Temin. Iron and Steel in Nineteenth Century America: An Economic Inquiry. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1964.
Joseph E. Walker. Hopewell Village: A Social and Economic History of an Iron-Making Community, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
‡ Jacox, Diann L. and Boyle, Joseph Lee, Hopewell Village National Historic Site, 1985, nomination document, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.