Vesuvius Furnace

For a downloadable brochure on Iron Furnaces on the Wayne National Forest click here

GPS Lat/Long coordinates for the furnace are 38 deg 36' 20" / 82 deg 37' 50".

Iron Ore brings prosperity

Throughout southern Ohio are the remnants of the iron industry. The Vesuvius Iron Furnace was one of 46 charcoal iron vesuvius Furnacefurnaces located in the six county Hanging Rock Iron Region of southern Ohio.  

The furnaces produced iron from 1818 to 1916, and by 1875, southeastern Ohio led the nation in iron production. The steel hulls for both the Merrimac and the Monitor were fired from ore mined in this region (a lump of hematite or iron ore is shown below).

During the war, the Hanging Rock Iron District was one of only three places capable of producing the high quality iron needed for heavy cannon. 

Other armaments as well as pots, kettles, wagon wheels, and other implements were made of iron from this region. Hanging Rock iron was noted for its rust and corrosion- resistant characteristics. It was said that during the War, the demand for iron became so great that many iron masters would start the pigs of iron off to war before they cooled, and occasionally the hot iron would set the wagons on fire on the way to market.

To fuel the furnaces, the forests were repeatedly cut, and the wood converted to charcoal. Each furnace required cutting 300 to 350 acres of timber annually to keep up with the demand. Charcoal made from second or third growth wood was said to be superior to that made from virgin timber. Even so, the forests couldn't grow fast enough to keep up with the furnaces, and an ever-widening circle of land was required to cut and haul wood. 

The boom brought in workers who were housed in "company towns" that sprawled around the furnaces. The workers were normally paid in "scrip", shown below, which was actually money printed by each furnace and redeemable only at the Company Store. This kept the workers tied to the site since the scrip they earned had limited use.

vesuvius_25 cent_script

vesuvius_5 cent_script

The Ironmasters, however, lived quite well. This was the home of the Ironmaster of the Olive Furnace, due north of Vesuvius Furnace.

olive furnace ironmasters house

Early predictions had boasted the iron ore in the Hanging Rock region would never be excelled in quality and was in sufficient supply to produce iron for 2,700 years. But shortly after the Civil War, the Hanging Rock seams were largely gone. During the same period, rich iron seams near Lake Superior were discovered. By the 1900's, most of the Hanging Rock furnaces had ceased operation. 

Today's legacy to the iron industry are the scars of the iron mines and ghostly stacks of several of the iron furnaces. One of the most famous of the Hanging Rock furnaces was the Vesuvius Furnace, now part of a recreation area on the Wayne National Forest. 

The rock chimney, built without benefit of mortar, is only a small part of the operation that once produced iron here. On most sites, there are two levels. A storage yard was built on the upper level, even with the top of the chimney. The lower level was 35-40 feet below at the base of the chimney. The storage yard had numerous sheds containing charcoal (which had to be kept dry), and great piles of iron ore and limestone. The lower level was the casting house, the scale house, and carpenter and blacksmith shops. The photo below was of Hecla Furnace, near Vesuvius, in operation.

Hecla furnace

Vesuvius Furnace - Model of new Technology

Named for an Italian volcano, the Vesuvius Furnace was built in 1833. At the height of its glory, it was a leading example in ingenuity and efficiency. The Vesuvius furnace, under the direction of William Firmstone, pioneered a new technique to reduce heat requirements and increase production of "hot blast" furnace systems. The furnace employed about 100 men who worked as laborers, teamsters, ore-diggers, blacksmith, carpenters, charcoal burners, storekeepers, and book keepers. The workers often were paid in goods or in scrip redeemable only at the company store. 

The workers produced 8 to 12 tons of iron each day, approximately 3,000 tons per year, in the form of pig iron. Pig iron was then sold to manufacturers of trade items. Each ton of iron required 190 bushels of charcoal, three tons of iron ore, and 300 pounds of limestone.  The three ingredients were poured in the top of the furnace and then the charcoal was ignited. Air was blown (or blasted, hence the name blast furnace) up through the ore and fuel mixture. The air was fed in through the smaller, inverted V-shaped openings in the side of the stack. 

Once heated to the proper temperature the iron ore and limestone melted. Impurities in the mixture floated to the top and formed a glassy waste product called slag. The larger inverted V-shaped opening was used to draw off the iron and slag separately. The molten iron was released into a series of sand trenches. The central trench branched into side ditches, each was filled with molten iron which then cooled and solidified. The central trench was called sow iron, the side trenches, pig iron. The names came from the similarity of appearance to piglets nursing on each side of a sow pig. 

Once produced, wagons pulled by oxen hauled the pig iron to the shipping point. It took about 50 yoke of oxen to move the iron pigs to the docks. Once loaded on river boats, the ore was taken to Pittsburgh. The route taken by the wagons leaving Vesuvius Furnace was west on Paddle Creek Road, and it was by design that the road was a gradual downhill grade. In 1851 rail lines were completed accessing many of the furnaces and providing more efficient transportation.

old railroad bed uncovered when the lake was drained

This old rail road bed was exposed in the boat dock hollow as the lake waters receded when the lake was drained in 2002. We believe it dates back to the iron furnace era. Gus and Adam, volunteers at the nature center pose with the historic railroad ties. 

End of an Era -

In time, the iron seams played out and the circle of denuded land required ever further hauls of wood for charcoal. The last charcoal furnace closed in 1916 and the laborers drifted west to active ore fields. Between 1900 and 1930, census records show a 40 percent drop in the area's population. As companies abandoned their holdings, the amount of tax delinquent lands on the tax rolls rose to 36 percent by 1932.


Vesuvius Furnace gets new lease on life -

A large Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) camp was established near the old furnace in the 1930's. The manpower provided by the CCC crews constructed the Vesuvius Lake and Recreation Area.  The narrows of Storms Creek offered a good dam site for a lake and the rugged hills and out-cropping cliffs formed a scenic backdrop to the historical site. The old oxen road which had hauled out the pig iron was widened and graveled, and trees were planted on the barren hillsides. 

Recognizing its historic value, a roof was added to the rock furnace in 1991 to protect the massive stonework, and firebrick from further water damage.


Anyone interested in volunteering at this, or any other historic or recreation site should call our office for more information.

Success Story on Furnaces:


 Wayne Land Acquisition Benefits Heritage Resources
The number of historic iron furnaces on the Wayne National Forest increased by one with September's land purchase from the Ohio Chapter of the Nature Conservancy.



The Wayne National Forest Claims Another Iron Furnace Site
Trails project leads to the find of a possible National Register of Historic Places eligible site.