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Duo looks to restore Mount Olive Furnace

WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP-- Mount Olive Furnace blasted 24 hours a day, seven days a week and nine months out of the year in the late nineteeth century.

Temperatures reached as high as 3,000 degrees. Then, the furnace blew out around 1912.

The furnace, that was located in Washington Township near the Decatur Township line, is now surrounded by trees and brush.

Two men want to restore and preserve the furnace.

"I got hooked on the history of southern Ohio when I was going to the University of Rio Grande," said Amos Hawkins, a native of Ashtabula County and now a resident of West Palm Beach, Fla. "My wife's family moved to Lawrence County during World War II and we met at Rio Grande. I heard about the furnaces there."

Later, Hawkins met Carl Malone, a resident of Symmes Township at a church they both attended.

"We got to talking and he learned I had an interest in the history of this area," said Hawkins. "That's when he started showing me all of the furnaces."

The furnace is one of only three in Lawrence County that are privately owned, and the property owner is allowing them to lease the property, Hawkins said. Mount Olive Furnace is right along State Route 93 and is in fair condition.

Fifteen furnaces once dotted the landscape of Lawrence County. The 12 that are not privately owned are either owned by the government or have been destroyed.

What makes this particular furnace unique, Hawkins said, is that the base is carved out of native rock and a Roman arch still stands. This arch held the charging house, in which iron ore, coal, and limestone were dumped. Every 12 hours, iron was let out of this.

"This particular furnace produced 16 tons of iron a day," said Hawkins. "It was cast into molds during the week, and on Sunday, it was cast into pig iron."

After clearing the brush and trees and other wooden structures that obscure the furnace, Hawkins and Malone hope to have the charging house and other buildings around the furnace restored. These buildings were demolished in 1915.

Hawkins and Malone not only want to restore the furnace, but also want to clear the rest of the surrounding area to make it a park complete with picnic tables and a souvenir shop.

Because the furnaces were locally owned and operated in their heyday, Hawkins and Malone want the restoration to be a community project. If the project is successful, the men hope the area will be a place for schoolchildren to come.

"We want children to come and see what it was like back then," said Hawkins, adding he wants to make the site into an outdoor classroom.

"We're going to be talking to people and, maybe, twist a few arms," Hawkins said. "We're clearing the area right now, but we could use some donations and some help." Amelia Pridemore/The Ironton Tribune