‘The Crossroads of America’
The Hanging Rock Iron Region covered an area of more than 1,000 square miles. In the 1830s, the furnace boom was starting in Lawrence County.
There were 13 furnaces here and some continued up into the 1900s.
Many people came to Lawrence County seeking work. Some lived on farms, some in the city of Ironton, and some lived in surrounding communities.
The population consisted of Germans, English, French, Irish, Welsh and many more nationalities.
There were rich people living here, some owning and managing the furnaces and some owning property. Wages were low and life was primitive.
The Ohio River offered a means of transportation for the furnaces as well as personal travel.
The Iron Railroad was started with the first tracks laid from Ironton through Pine Grove onto Center Station.
Each furnace had a community, which had a church, school, a general store and cemetery.
Some of these communities still exist, such as Superior and Steece, but many are unheard of now.
Lawrence County was known as having the purist charcoal in the U.S. This iron was used during the Civil War for field guns, heavy ordnances and household articles.
One interesting story is the making of the material used in constructing the “Swamp Angel.” This huge gun was used in the Civil War and is now standing in a courtyard in New Jersey.
The iron for this gun was made at the Hecla Furnace.
If you would like to know more about the Lawrence County furnaces, you will find information in the Hamner Room for genealogy and local history at Briggs Library.
Here you will find ledgers and records that were kept about the furnaces. In the collection you will find “The Ramsey Book,” “Kentucky Iron Furnaces” by Donald Rist, “Hanging Rock Iron Region” by Willard and an additional collection in the vertical file.
Another good source is the “Ironton Register.” This was a weekly newspaper that started in 1850. The library has bound volumes to 1900. It is also on microfilm from 1855.
When the work dwindled, the population moved on to other areas.
There was a wagon train trail to Missouri through Lawrence County.
Many people went in that direction and onto California, Oregon and to the western states.
To learn more about Lawrence County being the “Crossroads of America,” a visit to the Hamner Room at the Briggs Lawrence County Public Library would be rewarding. Here you will find the rich history of our county.
The above article was written Sept. 30, 1995, while I was employed by Briggs Library.