Big Etna Furnace

Big Etna Furnace

“Alice” went into blast in 1875 — “Blanche” went into blast in 1888.

“Big Etna” / Etna Iron Works later became part of the Marting Iron & Steel Company.


Alice Furnace was named for the daughter of George Willard. Blanche Furnace was named for Blanche McGovney. In the Spring of 1873, the company erected on the river bank, just above the city of Ironton, two hot blast coke furnaces, the “Alice” and the “Blanche.” These furnaces are what is known as the Ferrie Patent Self-coking Furnace. The number of fire brick used in their construction was one million five hundred thousand, and of red brick, three million. Each of these furnaces has a capacity of 75 tons of iron per day, when confined to the ores of the Hanging Rock district; but if they were fed with the Lake Superior or Iron Mountain ore, they would each turn out 100 tons each day. They are among the very largest establishments of the kind in the United States. (WRITTEN BY SHARON M. KOUNS FOR THE LAWRENCE REGISTER:

Ironton Register, Feb. 20, 1873 – Location of the new furnace. – Our readers will be gratified to learn that the question of the new furnace to be built by the Etna Iron Works has been settled and that Ironton is surely the lucky place. The Directors met last Tuesday evening and decided upon the Kemp lands near the Old Hecla Landing, scarcely a half mile above the corporation line. The tract of land which they have secured is about fifteen acres. The company purchased from Thos. and C. T. M. Kemp, and about five acres from John A. Witman. – Everyone will concede the excellence this action of the Directors. The site chosen is near the upper terminus of the Iron Railroad and is favorably situated in reference to river landing. There was much anxiety felt in this community upon this subject, and the fear lest that institution would be located out on the railroad, or some miles below town, prompted much speculation on the matter.

IR Mar. 20, 1873 – Building Contracts. – The 103 houses now building on Etna Iron Works lands are distributed among the following contractors:  J. P. Shipton, 30, John T. Higgins, 15, A. T. Brattin, 11, E. M. Sanders 10, Wm. Nolty [sic] 10, Fred Schanzel 10, Bingman and Miner 5, Richard Snead 10, Smith & Hall 2.  All of these houses except three will be small frames – the three will be large enough to be used for boarding houses.

Ironton Register, Apr. 30, 1874 – The foundations for the engine house and boiler house of the Etna Iron Works is completed and the Thomas W. Means brought the engines from Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Ironton Register, Sept. 16, 1875 – Etna Works. – The new Etna furnace blew in last Monday morning, in the presence of a throng of spectators.  … At night, the first run of iron was made, about 8 tons being the result.  The quality of the metal was very fine for the first cast.  The next morning about 16 tons more were made, of improved quality….The successful start of this immense furnace is an epoch in the history of Ironton, and all the people are delighted with the suspicious omens.

Ironton Register, February 28, 1878 – Etna’s Alice is cold. Between the financial embarrassment of the Etna Company and the proposed reduction in the tariff, the prospects for an early resumption of iron making in that quarter is anything but encouraging. Ironton Register, February 28, 1878 – The Alice has made over 30,000 tons pig, on present hearth – 20,000 tons being made after it had been supposed the hearth was practically gone, and in fact, after the iron had been breaking out through the walls.
IRONTON, O., MARCH 27, 1878 

We the Directors of the Etna Iron Works, beg to submit the following terms and conditions as a basis for a compromise and settlement with all of our unsecured creditors; reserving, however, the right to prefer and pay in full all that may found due our employees to this date:
To pay forty cents on a dollar, payable in two, three, four, five and six years from this date, with interest at the rate of six per cent per annum after one year; secured by a Second Mortgage upon all the Real Estate owned by the Etna Iron Works in Lawrence County, State of Ohio, amounting to some sixteen thousand five hundred acres, with all improvements thereon. Such Mortgage to be made to a Trustee, who shall be selected by a majority of Creditors in interest, and for a sufficient amount to cover all of said compromised claims and interest to date of maturity.       A majority of the indebtedness represented at a meeting of Creditors held March 27, 1878, expressed a willingness to accept the above proposition.      You will be waited upon in a few days by a representative of the Company.

Last week, when we went to press, the Etna Creditors’ meeting was in session, but we stated the probability that no understanding would be reached. The committee which waited upon the Directors returned with a proposition to settle at 40 percent, payable 2,3,4,5, and 6 years, and no interest in the first year. That proposition was rejected by a close vote. A resolution was passed recommending that the company make an assignment. A committee was also appointed to view the assets of the company and estimate their value. Said committee are John Means, G. N. Gray and George Clarke. The meeting lasted from ten o’clock in the morning until nearly dark, excepting the noon hour. Of the $350,000 unsecured creditors, about $224,000 were represented. Those present seemed desirous of a agreeing with the company upon some settlement, but there was a variety of views as to the valuation of the real estate, and this prevented. When the meeting was over, a majority of the indebtedness represented at the meeting manifested a willingness to accept the 40 per cent proposition.

Directory to the Iron and Steel Works of the United States – 1884
Etna Iron Works, Ironton. Two stacks- Alice 86 x 18 first blown in September 13 1875, closed top, four Whitwell hot blast stoves, ores native Virginia Kentucky and Missouri, product mostly foundry pig iron, annual capacity 26,000 net tons. Brand Alice.
– Blanche 86 x 18 nearly finished to mate the Alice.
Cyrus Ellison President
SB Steece Vice President  (**Side note – SB Steece founded the Ironton Cement Co (later becoming Alpha Portland Cement)
Thomas McGovney Secretary and Treasurer
HR Brown, Furnace Manager
Selling agents A Pleumer & Co, Cincinnati

Ironton Register, November 4, 1886 – Burned Down – The Etna house near Alice Furnace was destroyed by fire last Friday night, at about ten o’clock. The fire caught from a stove. There were seven families living in the house, but they managed to get out all their property. The blaze made by the fire was terrific. It reddened the entire southern sky. The Etna house was built when Big Etna Furnace was erected, and was used as a boarding house at first, and afterward as a tenement house. It was insured for $3,000. It is the purpose of the company to put up some smaller houses to accommodate their employees.

Ironton Register, June 9, 1887 – At Alice furnace the new engine is running finely, and one of the old engines has been dismantled to be overhauled.  The remaining engine will be treated in like manner.  The outer walls of the stock house are being rebuilt of wood, and iron roofs to cover the stock house and boiler house have been ordered from Pittsburgh.

March 24,1887 –

On Wednesday evening of last week, the big brick stock house, at Etna furnace, a mile above town was destroyed by fire. The fire started about 7 o’clock, in the engine house of the hoist.  The workmen were getting ready to start the furnace, after a rest of a couple weeks, and the blast was to be put on the next morning,  The cross head of the engine had been broken, and an employee started to the blacksmith shop to get it fixed leaving the lamp burning.  Before he returned, the lamp exploded or upset, in some way, when the greasy floor quickly ignited, and soon the flames were creeping to the roof.  It was impossible to stop them.  A slight wind through the stock house helped the fire onward. It was easily seen that nothing could save the stock house, and so every effort was made to protect the hoist and engine.  These were successful, but the stock house went, leaving nothing but some ragged and tottering walls.  The roof of the stock house was slate, but it went about as fast as if it were shingle.

In the stock house, was a lot of ore, coal and coke.  Of course the ore was safe; most of the coke was saved, but the coal was consumed in the flames.. The entire loss of material in the stock house foots up about  $1,700.

As for the stock house, that was a stupendous structure, more costly than necessary, and which is no serious loss, as a stock house to cost about $3,000 will take its place, and to answer every purpose.  Such a house is to be put up immediately, to be the size and on the place of the old stock house. So the absolute loss will be less than $5,000, There was no insurance.  The furnace itself was not injured and is again in blast, doing as well as ever.

Mr. Pluemer was on his way here from Cincinnati, when the fire occurred, and learned of the disaster at Portsmouth.  With his usual zeal, he has arrangements perfected to have the furnace go right along with its work.

Ironton Register, October 27, 1887 – Cam Peters fell about 30 feet, from a scaffold at Alice Furnace, yesterday. No bones broken, but he is laid up.

Ironton Register, December 6, 1888 – BIG ETNA – BLANCHE STACK IN BLAST, AND OTHER NOTES. – When the mammoth furnace of the Etna Iron Works at the upper end of town, was erected in 1872, only one of the twin stacks was completed. The Alice stacks was finished, but Blanche was left unlined, and incomplete – a mere iron tube of ponderous size, with the bridge constructed at the top, and the connections, etc., arranged for.
Blanche has now been lined, and workmen are filling the new furnace with stock preparatory to putting on the blast today or tomorrow. The work of lining has been going on for months. It has cost about $23,000, including all necessary changes and additions, and over 400,000 brick, including red and fire brick, have been used. Meanwhile, Alice has been blown out and the engines and Whitwell ovens used for that furnace have been connected with Blanche. These changes were practically made some weeks ago, but the starting of the furnace was delayed by the river water rising in the well hole, so it was not possible to reach the pumps until last week.
Mr. Pleumer, the President of the Company, whom the REGISTER has interviewed on the subject, says he hopes to make 100 tons of iron a day in the new stack, when she gets fairly started. Alice, with the same outer dimensions as Blanche, made on an average about 74 or 5 tons in the last year of her run, but Blanche is new throughout and has been lined after the most approved pattern, hence the expected large increase. The most iron Alice ever made was a very exceptional day’s run, several years ago, of 104 tons of mill iron.
Mr. Pleumer said also, that it is possible in the coming year, that the other stack will be blown in. He has just returned from the East, there he spent several weeks among his associates in the Etna enterprise, and states that if he gets the assurance of Pres. F. J. Kimball, of the Norfolk & Western road, that his projected line to Ironton will be built to Ironton next Summer, and the rates of freight will be such as there is every reason to expect, there is no doubt that the Alice stack will be got in readiness to start at that time. He is now in communication with Mr. Kimball on that subject, and may learn his purpose in a month. If the Alice is started, it will involve an expenditure of $50,000 or $60,000, as the stack must be re-lined, and in order to run both stacks at once, additional hot blast ovens would have to be built, and two more blowing engines added. The operation of both stacks is simply a possibility of the future, and an event which Mr. Pleumer thinks is sure to follow the advent of the new road, that will furnish us such valuable access to the coking and ore regions of Virginia.

Ironton Register, Nov. 21, 1889 – Appointed.  – The Common Pleas Court of Hamilton County have appointed John Campbell, John Peters and Cyrus Ellison to appraise the property of the Etna Iron Works.   These are splendid selections.  They are gentlemen of experience and capacity and will faithfully attend to their important duties.

Ironton Register, June 4, 1891 – Etna Iron Works. – Mr. Hartman, a furnace expert, is here as the representative of the purchasers of the Etna Iron Works, to examine the property, its resources and facilities for making iron. He has been here a week and has been diligent in inspecting every part of the vast property. … The sale of Etna works has not yet been confirmed, but there seems to be no doubt but the Court will favorably act in a few days.

Ironton Register, June 25, 1891 – Confirmed. – The sale of the Etna Iron Works has been confirmed. Now, if we knew what the report sent here to investigate was, we could tell what the future of Etna Iron Works would be and how soon it would begin.

Ironton Registerm Jan. 23, 1896 – Etna. – The ovens are about half torn away and work was begun yesterday tearing out the lining of Alice stack.  Mr. Bird calculates having all the old structures cleared away ready for the contractor, by the first of February.  The ovens have been removed carefully so as to be put up again at the Iron & Steel furnace if it is found desirable.

Ironton Register, September 23, 1897 – Etna Furnace Sale – Next Saturday at 10 a. m., the big Etna Furnace, in Ironton, will be offered at public sale, on the premises by the trustees, Messrs. Lee and Clark, both of whom are expected to arrive here Friday evening. Mr. Hart a prominent stockholder, is also expected. The notice of the sale is printed in full on the seventh page of this issue. The bondholders are likely to buy in the property.

Ironton Register, July 13, 1899 – Etna Furnace is now in good working order, since getting their water from the City Water Works. They have plenty of steam and are burning but little coal. Are expecting to have natural gas soon to use when necessary. They are at present making 240 tons daily of fine Bessemer iron. They will begin next week to put in four new boilers.

Articles from the Ironton Register newspaper can be viewed at The Lawrence Register site and at Briggs Library.

The site is now a toxic wasteland but the EPA is cleaning it up. To read about the EPA Superfund clean up in Ironton, here are some links:
Cleanup of the Former Ironton Iron, Inc. Facility is Underway!
Region 5 Clean Up Sites

Have questions? Contact Nicole Cox at (740) 646-4104. We hope to see you there!

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About Lawrence County, Ohio

Lawrence County, Ohio borders the Ohio River at the Southernmost part of the state. Six architecturally interesting bridges span the Ohio River, connecting Lawrence County with various locations in both Kentucky and West Virginia. Because of these bridges, metropolitan Ashland, KY and Huntington, WV are just minutes away from virtually anywhere in the county.

Lawrence County Ohio was organized December 20, 1816, the first Court of Common Pleas was organized March 4, 1817. In 2016, Lawrence County celebrated its Bicentennial… click here to view photos of the Grand Finale event.

The first election was held April 7, 1817, with Joseph Davidson, Joel Bowen, and David Spurlock elected county commissioners. Their first meeting was held Monday afternoon, April 21, 1817, at the home of Joseph Davidson in Burlington.

Lawrence County, Ohio was named after Capt. James Lawrence, a native of Burlington, NJ and a gallant naval officer of the War of 1812.

Lawrence County was home to 23 blast furnaces and was once the world leader in pig iron production.

The county seat is Ironton, where you will find our government offices, restaurants, museum, library, splash park, civic organizations, and is home of the famous Memorial Day Parade.

Check out what’s new in Lawrence County, with the Lawrence County Guide Book. 

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