Catoctin Furnace, 2010. Photo from Wikipedia.

Es Mi Parque: Brief History of Catoctin Furnace at Cunningham Falls State Park in English and Spanish

By Waxter Intern

Maryland State Parks has created their Es Mi Parque program to better connect a large and growing number of Latino visitors to the cultural, recreational and historic resources of Maryland. In partnership, Preservation Maryland will produce a series of brief park histories in English and Spanish.

Cunningham Falls, 2016. Photo from Live and Let Hike blog.

Cunningham Falls, 2016. Photo from Live and Let Hike blog.


Cunningham Falls State Park and the Catoctin Iron Furnace

Cunningham Falls State Park in Frederick County, Maryland was created in 1954 when a 4000 acre portion of federally held lands known as the Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area was deeded to the State of Maryland. The remaining northern portion of the Demonstration Area became Catoctin Mountain National Park and contains the presidential retreat known as Camp David. Cunningham Falls State Park is immediately south of the National Park and includes natural resources, like a very popular waterfall, as well as historical resources. One of the major historical sites at Cunningham Falls State Park is the Catoctin Iron Furnace.

Historic view of operating furnace. Photo from Emmitsburg Historical Society.

Historic view of operating furnace. Photo from Emmitsburg Historical Society.

Historically, a furnace was a large stone structure that extracted iron from ore through a process of burning charcoal or coal and blasting air provided by bellows or geared machinery attached to a water wheel or steam engine. The Catoctin Iron Furnace dates to the 1770s when deposits of hematite, the main ore of iron, were discovered in the region. Four brothers, James, Thomas, Baker and Rogers Johnson built the first furnace between 1774 and 1776 and it may have been used to produce ammunition for the Continental Army during the American Revolution. During the Civil War the furnace made iron for war material, including for ships like the USS Monitor. The furnace was primarily used to cast different iron implements and pig iron which could be hammered and reshaped into different tools or remelted and shaped into kitchen pots.

Over time, more modern furnaces were built at the site to better capitalize on the iron ore resources. This includes the furnace that still stands at the site in the State Park today, “Isabella,” that was built in 1856 with newer steam-powered technology that provided more efficient hot air.

As even this updated technology became outdated, many of the furnaces at the site were dismantled as it became unprofitable to extract iron. Coal was cheaper and more efficient, but Catoctin only had timber for charcoal. Even though there was a newer coal fired furnace, “Deborah,” there was not a railroad nearby to ship in coal and ship out iron, making it too expensive to operate. Learning the history of the furnaces shows how the area’s natural resources led to industrialization, but so too did changing technology and the economics of business cause the age of iron furnaces to grow…and decline.

Now as a State Park since 1954, visitors can see how the wealth of natural resources, like hematite and lumber, led to the industrialization of the area and the expansion of neighboring towns – these natural and historic resources tell an important part of Maryland history.

En Espanol

Cunningham Falls State Park y el Catoctin Iron Furnace (Horno de Hierro)

Cunningham Falls State Park en el condado de Frederick, Maryland, fue creado en 1954 cuando una porción de 4000 acres de tierras federales conocidas como el Área de Demostración Recreacional de Catoctin fue transferida al estado de Maryland. La restante porción del norte del Área de Demostración se convirtió en Catoctin Mountain National Park y contiene el retiro presidencial conocido como Camp David. Cunningham Falls State Park está inmediatamente al sur del Parque Nacional y incluye recursos naturales, como una cascada muy popular, además de recursos históricos. Uno de los sitios históricos importantes en Cunningham Falls State Park  es el Catoctin Iron Furnace u Horno de Hierro.

Históricamente, un horno era una estructura de piedra grande que extrajo hierro del mineral con un proceso de quemar el carbón vegetal o el carbón y soplando aire de voladura proporcionado por un fuelle o maquinaria engranada conectada a una rueda de agua o un motor de vapor. El Catoctin Horno de Hierro data a los 1770s cuando depósitos de hematita, el mineral central de hierro, se descubrieron en la región. Cuatro hermanos, James, Thomas, Baker y Rogers Johnson construyeron el primer horno entre 1774 y 1776 y puede haber sido utilizado para producir munición para el Ejército Continental durante la Revolución Americana. Durante la Guerra Civil el horno hizo hierro para material de la guerra, incluyendo para naves como el USS Monitor. El horno principalmente se usó para fundir diferentes instrumentos de hierro y hierro de cerdo que podría ser martillado y reformado en diferentes herramientas o refundido y formado en ollas de cocina.

Launch of USS Monitor, 1863. Photo from Harpers Weekly.

Launch of USS Monitor, 1863. Photo from Harpers Weekly.

Con el paso de tiempo, hornos más modernos fueron construidos en el sitio para capitalizar mejor en los recursos del mineral de hierro. Este incluye el horno que todavía está en el sitio en el parque estatal hoy, “Isabella,” que fue construido en 1856 con una nueva tecnología de poder de vapor que proporcionaba aire caliente más eficiente.

Incluso esta tecnología actualizada también se volvió obsoleta, muchos de los hornos en el sitio fueron desmantelados como se volvió no rentable para extraer hierro. El carbón era más barato y más eficiente, pero Catoctin solo tenía madera para el carbón vegetal. A pesar de que había un horno de carbón más nuevo, “Deborah,” no había un ferrocarril cerca para recibir el carbón y enviar el hierro, haciéndolo demasiado caro para operar. Aprendiendo la historia de los hornos muestra como los recursos naturales de la región llevó a industrialización, pero también el cambio de la tecnología y la economía de los negocios hace que la era de los hornos de hierro crezca…y disminuya.

Ahora como un Parque Estatal desde 1954, los visitantes pueden ver cómo la riqueza de los recursos naturales, como la hemetita y la madera, llevó a la industrialización del área y la expansión de los pueblos vecinos– estos recursos naturales y históricos cuentan una parte importante de la historia de Maryland.

Learn more about the catoctin furnace

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This post was translated into Spanish by Katherine Longabaugh, one of Preservation Maryland’s Waxter Interns. Kate’s work with Preservation Maryland has focused on cataloging and archiving the organization’s large digital photography collection. She is originally from Seattle and is an undergraduate student at Goucher College studying Spanish, Historic Preservation, and Environmental Studies. Learn more about Kate and our intern program here:

Waxter Intern

A legacy gift from William D. Waxter, III established the Waxter Memorial Internship to help Preservation Maryland support the next generation in historic preservation.

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