Glory days of furnaces focus of book

Published 9:58 am Thursday, July 9, 2009

There was more to being the international center of the pig iron industry than a stack of bricks.

That’s what Lori Shafer, a veteran Briggs librarian, learned as she researched her first book, “The Iron Furnaces of Lawrence County Ohio.”

At places like Lake Vesuvius, those bricks are the only remnant of what was a vibrant industry in the 1800s that contributed much to the history of this nation.

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“When I was little I thought the stack was it,” Shafer said. “That is just a tiny little spot of what the furnace was. I was always interested in history and the more I began working in the genealogy department at the library on a regular basis, the more I was interested.”

Her goal was to create a more current resource for library on the furnace industry, which ran from 1816 when the Argillite Furnace was founded through the 19th century. During its heyday there were 21 furnaces in the area fueled by charcoal, blast or coal blast. Each one had its own community that was created around the actual furnace.

“The iron masters lived in their own community” Shafer said. “They made sure people got educated. There were schools and churches. The iron masters were very religious people and very responsible as far as what their community responsibility was. They were not just trying to make money.”

Among the surprises Shafer discovered was that only one furnace that took the initiative in observing the blue law, staying shut on Sundays. That was Pine Grove run by iron master Robert Hamilton who contended the furnace could still make a profit if it only ran six days a week.

“There were so many firsts. Each furnace had a unique feature,” she said.

However, even operating for seven days couldn’t help the Oak Ridge Furnace stay in the black. It has the dubious distinction of never making a profit.

“I tried to get as many personal accounts in it,” she said. “Who ran the school. How much money they made.”

Salaries back then as in today’s world depended on one’s degree of skill.

The person who chopped the wood for the furnaces earned 62 cents a day while the worker who gathered up the vital iron ore could bring in $3.00 a ton.

However that work would take on average two days. The highest paid worker, besides the manager, was the foundry man, pulling in a whopping $800 a year.

Besides producing the book in large print Shafer deliberately chose to use a large selection of historic photos.

“To me history doesn’t come alive if you can’t see it,” she said.

If YOU GO: Lori Shafer will sign copies of her book, “The Iron Furnaces of Lawrence County” at 2 p.m. today at the Ironton branch and at 2 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1 at the Chesapeake branch. The book costs $15 and is in large print. For more information contact the Ironton branch of the Briggs Library at 532-1124.