Cumberland Ranger District
Fitchburg Furnace is a "must see" for historians and the serious iron furnace enthusiast. Also known as the Red River Furnace, the structure is in excellent shape. The furnace has two stacks, Blackstone on the left and Chandler on the right. The furnace is a solid mass of huge sandstone blocks built 60 feet high. The base measures 40 by 80 feet; and the interior stacks are 50 feet tall with 12 and a half-foot boshes.
These were steamblast charcoal furnaces with a daily output of 25 tons. Built with a total investment of $160,000, they are an impressive sight. The furnaces alone costs $100,000, with the remaining money being invested in equipment.
Fitchburg was built largely on greed and speculation. The overspeculation in western railroads during the latter part of the 1860s led many businessmen to become involved in iron production. The fact that the furnace was built as a charcoal furnace when many were converting to coal is clear evidence that experienced furnace owners were not involved.
The furnace closed in the Panic of 1873 when the speculation bubble broke, causing a short recession. Additionally, the discovery of iron ore beds in Birmingham, Alabama reduced the need for southern buyers to purchase iron from Kentucky.
The furnace utilized limonite (limestone) ore that is found under beds of clay and white shale. A typical charge included three tons of ore, 179 bushels of charcoal, and 1.8 tons of limestone flux. More than 1,000 men worked at Fitchburg when it was in operation.
Learn more about the stabilization of Fitchburg Furnace....
Clear Creek Iron Furnace
Cumberland Ranger District
The remains of this historic furnace dominate the site at the Clear Creek Picnic Area. This furnace produced an average of three tons of iron each day, devouring half an acre of trees in the process. The Kentucky hillsides, rich in natural resources, not only provided the iron ore but also the necessary limestone and trees used in the iron-making process. Hand-cut limestone, stacked 40 feet tall with an inside diameter of 10 1/2 feet, makes up the chimney - the core of the process.
A small village, complete with a store, school, laundry service and church, once sat on this site.
Get out and explore the area. Where might the old wagons have traveled? Where would the water channel have been that was used to power the magnificent bellows? Imagine the noise of the furnace, and above it, the sound of children playing.
In contrast to the 1800s iron furnace is a 20th century experimental fiber reinforced foot bridge, also found at this site. This 60-foot lightweight bridge, developed by the University of Kentucky, is the first of its kind in the world. Much like the hand-cut limestone of the iron furnace, this bridge was assembled by hand on site without the use of heavy equipment. Crossing this bridge will connect you to the Sheltowee Trace National Recreation Trail, which winds its way south, from here into Tennessee.
Kentucky has a long history of iron production. Oldindustry.org maintains a list of furnaces in Kentucky.