Olive Furnace History
Written by Amos
In 1846 John Campbell,
John Peters, Madison Cole, William Clements and J. L.
Thompson purchased about 3,600 acres of wilderness land
20 miles up the Iron Trail from the County Courthouse in
Ironton . Their intention was to build another iron
furnace next to Olive Creek. They hired miners whose task
it would be to locate an ore seam, to strip mine the iron
ore and to stockpile it. If the ore seam were deep below
ground level and at least four feet in thickness, it
would be drift mined. Some of the miners would locate
limestone and begin mining it. All of this would be
stockpiled and hauled to the furnace as soon as the
furnace was ready. A note should be made here that the
miners in those days did not have any protection against
disasters in the mines nor did they have any protection
against the rock dust or ore dust and many of them died
from associated illnesses.1
The colliers would
find a place next to a creek or a branch where they would
cut and char wood for charcoal ( on a large meiler it
could take as long as a month before the wood would be
While this was going
on in the woods, masons and stone cutters were hired to
begin carving the lower portion of the cupalo. The upper
portion would be of cut and hewed sandstone rocks laid
one on top of the other in an overlapping way until the
height of 38 feet was achieved.
When the bottom of the
furnace was carved to the proper specifications, the
stone masons began to build the inner lining of fire
brick made in Scioto County. These bricks had the correct
inward curve and the outward curve molded into them when
they were fired. This was done to make the bottle shape
of the inner lining. The inner lining and the outer shell
were raised at about the same time usually, but at Olive
the lower rock was carved first and then the firebrick of
the inward lining was laid to the top of the carved rock
and when they were the same height they were raised up
together. The inner lining of fire brick was cemented
into place with a mixture of fire clay and sand or ore
dust. Regular cement would powder when heated and not
hold.2 The outside shell would
support the inward lining in various places as they went
up. The hewed rocks of the outer shell were not cemented.
They were held in place by their weight.
This furnace would
have two Roman Arches. One would reach from the west side
of the stack to the cliff behind and the other would
reach from the north side of the stack to the north side
cliff. Abutments had to be built on both the furnace and
the hillside in order to support the arches. With this
done the arches were put into place on a reinforced form
and the keystone driven in place. A number of large rocks
and dirt were paced on top of the arch for weight to hold
it in place. The form was then removed and the arch was
These two arches would
support the weight of the charging house, 2 boilers and
smoke stack. The north arch would support Part of the
charging house and the boilers. The boilers would be
heated by the exhaust gases of the furnace. The back arch
had to support the weight of the charging house and the
first smoke stack.
Carpenters were hired
to put up the different buildings that were needed-the
storage sheds, the charging house, the charcoal house,
the casting house, the engine room, the blacksmith shop,
the carpenter shop, the company store, the church house,
the schoolhouse and the homes for the workers. All lumber
had to be sawed by hand to make boards. Cabins were made
For the first ten
years of Olive Furnace, it was a cold blast furnace. 1857
saw repairs made to the furnace and it was changed from a
cold blast to a hot blast furnace. The hot blast was
heated in a ring type heater stove. This heater was
placed in the exhaust stack on the southwest corner of
the Charging Shed. This heater was changed in 1860 to a
fifty pipe Davis Heater that sat at the end of the
boilers This was changed again in 1883 to a Player 18
pipe Heater placed at the end of the boilers.
In the engine room,
the steam machinery was replaced by larger machines. The
steam engine was geared to the two blowers which was
unusual as most furnaces used wide belts to drive the
blowers. These blowers had 43 inch pistons with a 5 foot
stroke while the engine had a 16 inch cylinder with a 6
foot stroke. During 1883, the stack height was raised to
The first Iron Master
for Mt Olive Furnace was John Peters, sr. He was the iron
master until 1864 when Samuel McGugin, WNs brother,
bought John Peters part of the business. W.N.
McGugin became the iron master. The operation became,
Campbell and McGugin Iron Works. Samuel died
in 1870 and John Campbell and W. N. McGugin bought out
Samuels part and the company name remained the
same. During 1883 John Campbell needed to liquidate some
of his holdings, so he sold the furnace to W.N. McGugin
and it became, Mc Gugen Ironworks- Olive
Furnace. The last iron master for Olive Furnace was
W. H. McGugin, W.N.s son. This was when W. N.
became to old to work. It probably was around 19074.
Olive Furnace was the
last charcoal iron furnace to operate in Lawrence County,
Ohio. Olive Furnace had been in blast for 63 years. The
last charcoal iron furnace to blow out was Jefferson
Furnace in Jackson County, Ohio.
When the furnace blew
out it went into the receivership of one E. Berman. In
late 1915 it was sold to Salle Brothers for scrap iron
and much of it was destroyed during that time5.
From the very first of
the furnace, runaway slaves were ushered through the
area. One African American, John Mathews, also a resident
of Olive, conducted a number of slaves through the area
and on to Poke Patch, Berlin Crossing or other routes
north. Other members of the town also helped in the
underground. Another conductor on the UGRR from Ironton,
was one James Ditcher who ushered runaways through the
area and on to safer regions of the North6.
In 1847or 8, Captain
Hagerty, who had purchased the rights to William
Kellys air boiling method of making steel in Ohio,
tried the process in Olive Furnace. He had trouble with
the process and called on William Kelly to come and help
get the process going correctly. Kelly came and moved the
converter out to the front of the furnace. Molten iron
was ladled into the converter from the furnace. It was
successful, but not any better steel than the puddling
system presently used, and more expensive. The result was
that the process was dropped at the end of that year.
About 1856, Sir Henry
Bessemer in England had also developed the same process
and Patented his discovery in America. Kelly had not
applied for a patent as he wanted to make certain the
process worked. Kelly could not get his process patented
because of the Bessemer patent. Kelly took this to court
and sued for prior discovery in 1857. Both Kelly and W.
N. McGugin made depositions in behalf of Kelly. The
result being that Kelly got his patents.
Kelly later joined
forces with Bessemer and it was called the Kelly-Bessemer
Converter. Later Kelly sold out to Bessemer and it became
the Bessemer converter7.
Although Olive furnace
had a capacity for 16 tons of iron a day, it averaged out
to 141/2 tons per day. Olive Furnace produced an average
of 3915 tons of iron each year.
The hot blast system
used 11,370 cords of wood per year which amounted to
about 300 to 350 acres of trees per year.
The temperature of the
hot blast at each tuyere was 800 degrees and the pressure
was 31/4 psi.
The boilers were
located on top of the furnace stack where they were
heated by the exhaust gases of the stack.
Olive Furnace had two
ore burners that were locate next to the hill behind the
stock yard. They were 20 feet in diameter and each one
could handle 25 tons of ore. Ore was burned to get rid of
some of the impurities in the ore, which allowed the
smelting process to produce better iron with less effort.
These ore burners were located with the help of the
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of November 1900 and Mary
It took 2.5 tons of
raw ore and 45 bushels of charcoal to make one ton of
Olive Furnace turned
out 90% of number 1 foundry iron and 10% of number 2
foundry iron in every pour. This information from the
Lawrence County Registry of Historic places.
Olive Furnace, as were
other furnaces, was charged from the top. The Tuyers
openings on the outside shell were louvered shut. Please
see the picture of Oak Ridge Furnace. The front opening
was louvered for a ways down the opening also8.
The following is a
list and the number of laborers needed for the operation
of a furnace9.
|1 Iron Master
2 keepers (discharge iron and slag)
1 store manger
|5-9 chargers or fillers (Weigh and
3-5 cast house workers (Form molds and break
4 slag removers, loaders, cleaners
1-2 store clerks
2-4 Carpenter helpers
2-5 ore burners
Off site workers
|1-10 colliers for making charcoal
15-20 ore &limestone miners
be noted here that the Charger and Keepers worked so
close to the furnace and the fire that after six weeks of
work they no longer had a sense of small and their nose
and mouth became distorted from the heat and gases of the
furnace. The cast house workers and the chargers had a
saying that they would not go to Hell because they had
already been there!
1. The Hanging Rock
Iron Region of Ohio; Eugene Willard and others; Lewis
Publishing Company; 1916;pg 272, The Campbell
2. The Manufacture of
Iron in All Its Branches; Frederick Overman, second
edition; Henry Baird; Philadelphia; 1851 pg. 156.
3. Lawrence County
Registration for Historic Sites; Briggs Lawrence County
Library, Ironton, Ohio.
4. From Ed Scofield,
the great, great, great grandson of W. N. McGngin and
Sharon Kouns The McGugin Genealogy.
5. The Morning
Irontonian, November 1915; Briggs Lawrence County
Library, Ironton, Ohio.
6. Siebert Papers;
November 1894; Courtesy of Ann Cramer, U. S. Forestry
Britannica, Micropedia;1974 Edition; Vol. 1; pg1025
Bessemer Process. Also Vol. 5; pg 752
8. This information
from photos taken of various furnaces.
9. List from a
pamphlet published for descendants of Jefferson Furnace
at a reunion.