Vesuvius Iron Furnace Festival set for Saturday

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 7, 2008

ELIZABETH TOWNSHIP — It sounds like the dream role. Playing one of the richest women in the state of Ohio and the world’s only female ironmaster when iron was the king coal of the Buckeye state.

And community activist Lou Pyles gets the job as she will portray Nannie Kelly Wright, that dynamic businesswoman and financier, at this year’s Third Annual Vesuvius Iron Furnace Festival.

“I heard of her as a small child growing up,” Pyles said. “When I was a docent at the museum, I would always be drawn to her room where we have some of her things.

Email newsletter signup

“She was a very successful businesswoman and I am all about success. I love to see things work out. And with her being a woman, I thought this would be great.”

Also taking a turn at these re-creations of history will be Brian Kelley who will portray Ironton founding father and abolitionist, John Campbell, and Ed Meyers, one of his workers at the furnaces.

The festival opens with master of ceremonies, J.B. Miller, Magic’s radio personality, at 9 a.m. Saturday. Music from Roger Smith will follow at the Vesuvius amphitheater after the opening.

Next comes the historical presentations starting at 11 a.m. with an afternoon of music by the Ohio University Southern Activity Band at noon, Kelley’s Bridge at 1:30 p.m. and Fun with the Huntington Harmonica Club at 3 p.m.

Throughout the day will be demonstrations and exhibits. There will be spinning from Good News Llamas; a quilt exhibit; a blacksmith demonstration; face painting; and reptile exhibits at the Nature Center.

This year’s festival features the Center Furnace, the Kelly family-owned furnace. During the Panic of 1873 and the economic turbulence that followed for at least two decades afterwards, the family holdings of Nannie’s husband took a nosedive. However, the clever entrepreneur devised a plan to buy the Kelly holdings from her in-laws at auction and that included the Center Furnace.

She revitalized the furnace operation, hired workers and founded a company town around her business.

The history of this 19th century industry and a working model of a furnace will be on display at the one-day festival.

Horse-drawn wagons will take visitors to the Vesuvius Cemetery where OUS history professor Robert Leith and others will relate the history of the Civil War veterans buried there through re-enactments.

During the past two festivals, around 500 came to the festival whose mission is to familiarize people with the history of the area, says organizer Dr. Robert Culp.

“One of the salvations of this area is tourism, if we can develop it,” Culp said. “The history of the area is the basis of tourism, the furnaces, the underground railroad.”