Iron Furnaces of the Etowah Valley

Longtime readers will know that, prior to the Civil War, northwest Georgia was home to an iron-smelting industry – and that Reinhardt’s own Ken Wheeler has become quite an authority on it. 

be-roberts.com

I found this illustration at the website for B&E Roberts Photography. It shows a nineteenth-century smelter in action, with the dry-stone charcoal-fired furnace at the center, a causeway for the dumping-in of ore on the one side, a water-powered bellows on the other, and iron (and slag) pouring out the bottom. 

Wanda Pirtle Cronauer

Several of these furnaces remain in various stages of repair around these parts. The best preserved (and most accessible) is Cooper’s Furnace, at Cooper’s Furnace Day Use Area. I have seen this one before but the photo shown here is by my former student Wanda Cronauer, which is better than the one I took. 

Other furnaces are more decayed and more remote, and have a real “lost Mayan temple in the jungle” feel to them. I have made it a goal to see as many of them as I can during this time of enforced social distancing. Stamp Creek, which runs not far from my house, is home to a few of them. This one is called Pool Furnace.

This one is the Lewis Iron Blast Furnace, aka Oak Grove Furnace, aka Earl Brown Furnace, also on Stamp Creek.

It’s in pretty good condition and still has remnants of the interior firebrick chimney. 

Slightly downstream we find the Diamond Furnace, also known as the Fire-Eater Furnace, which has unfortunately collapsed in on itself. 

Nearby on Guthrie Creek one finds the Bear Mountain “New Stack” Furnace. 

I don’t know what makes it a new stack furnace but it features this small chimney behind and above the front door. 

Finally, this one is Donaldson Furnace on Shoal Creek, near the Georgia National Cemetery (whose director I thank for permission to access it). It was never used, and the story is that Judge Donaldson built it as a means of keeping his sons from being conscripted into the army of the CSA, since iron production was an essential wartime activity. But the war ended before it was finished. And because it wasn’t finished, you can easily go inside it and look up through the chimney, as though you’re in the Pantheon. 

Other images of these furnaces may be seen at the web pages for B&E Roberts Photography and the Etowah Valley Historical Society

1 thought on “Iron Furnaces of the Etowah Valley

  1. Are these structures situate on private property or on public lands – what in Canada would be called ‘Crown Land’? It’s amazing to me that furnaces haven’t been spray painted with graffiti. Or even totally vandalized. They are survivors, for sure.

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