Union Furnace

Union Furnace

38.6105252, -82.7425125


* “Union Furnace was the first to be built in Lawrence County, Ohio, in 1826. With its building, a period of growth, wealth and prominence began.” — Ironton Tribune, “Reflecting on the Iron Furnace Era,” March 12, 2011.

* Ironton Register  – November 10, 1892:

“The First Iron Furnace”

William Louderback’s Recollections of Union Furnace

Of the old men of our own, no one holds his age better than William Louderback, who is nearly 82 years of age. He has worked nearly his entire life about the furnaces of the HRIR, and his fund of recollections of early iron making is rich. The following is the substance of a conversation with him.

“My father was Peter Louderback who moved from Pennsylvania at an early day and settled in Scioto county about three miles from where Sciotoville now stands. I was born April 11, 1811. When I was four years old, I was placed with Jesse Wolf who lived in Lawrence Co about three miles from where Center Furnace stands. Wolf was a prosperous pioneer. In addition to his farm, he ran a small still and made enough runs each year to supply the neighborhood. He brewed some beer also. During the hunting season, he would kill many deer and would sometimes have from 60 to 70 deer skins to sell in the spring. When I was about 13 years old, I went to live with Joshua Hoener of Kelley’s Mills on Pine Creek.

“While living there, Union Furnace was built. It was the first iron furnace in southern Ohio, and they began building when I was 14 years old. It was only about a mile and a half from where I lived and I hauled charcoal to it when it began running. Charcoal was then hauled in 150 bushel beds. We used oxen altogether for there were no mules in the country then. James Rodgers, who was the manager of the furnace, was the first man who counted five pecks of charcoal, a bushel. The furnace was on a primitive order. It made only about three tons a day. The output on Sunday was run into pigs, but the output during the week was made into hollow-ware, stoves, etc. The molten metal was ladled out from the hearth and poured into the various molds. A man was employed to skim the metal in the hearth and I have done the work many a time.

“John Sparks was the name of one of the owners. David Sinton, his nephew, was a boy of all work about the store and office. I have heard that Sinton died a millionaire in Cincinnati. Thomas W. Means was about the furnace also.

(Union Furnace was built in 1826, by John Means, a South Carolinian, who settled with his slaves in Lawrence County in 1819. He was an abolitionist and came to Ohio that his slaves might be free. – En.)

“Slaves used to run away from Kentucky quite often in those days. I remember of many who went through. There were so many passing that one an made a living by catching them and taking them back to Greenup, Ky. Once, a slave stopped at the home of a man named John Bruce and begged a breakfast. He was invited in, and while eating, he saw Bruce’s rifle hanging over the door. Something happened to scare the runaway, and he jumped up and grabbed the rifle and shot Bruce dead. He then escaped.”

“I have worked at Franklin, Junior, BuckhornOliveVernon and other furnaces and came to Jackson from Buckhorn. When I was at Olive I enlisted in the 4th Ohio Cavalry and served seven months. M son Jacob served in the war also.”
“The pioneers believed that the Indians had a lead mine on Raccoon Run, which flows into Pine Creek. Many a search was made for it, but only little pellets of lead were found.” – Jackson Standard

* “Col. Means entered the iron business, and thus, his son, Thomas, became an iron man. He built Union furnace in 1826, and his son “fired” the new furnace, and Thomas became the manager.” — Excerpt from Thomas W. Means obituary, Ironton Register, June 12, 1890, which can be viewed here: http://lawrencecountyohio.com/obits/newspapers/vol1/obitM.html


This map shows the location of Union Furnace at the far end of the Ironton Country Club. All that is left of this furnace is slag scattered throughout the area.


Union Furnace site in 1976, photo belongs to Emmett A. Conway. His site can be found HERE.

From the 1848 famous HISTORICAL COLLECTIONS OF OHIO by the intrepid Henry Howe, we have, perhaps, the first description of UNION FURNACE in Lawrence County.

Union Furnace was the first of the charcoal blast furnaces in the Ohio portion of the Hanging Rock Iron Region.

Howe traveled the entire state by horse and buggy to prepare his book “Containing a Collection of the most interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, Etc. Relating to its GENERAL AND LOCAL HISTORY”. The single volume of 595 pages was replicated by Howe in two volumes published on the 1890’s.

On page 289, Howe states:

 “The iron region is about eight miles wide.  It extends through the east part of Scioto, and the west part of this county (Lawrence) , and enters Jackson county on the north, and Greenup county, Ky., on the south.  Most of the iron in Lawrence is made into pig metal, which stands high for castings, and is equal to Scotch pig for foundery furnaces: it is also excellent for bar iron.  The principal markets are Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.  The four counties of Jackson, Lawrence, Scioto, and Greenup, Ky., make about 37,450 tons annually, which at $30 per ton, the current market price amounts to $1,123,500. (Furnaces had not yet been built in Vinton and Hocking Counties on the north). There are 21 furnaces in the iron region, of which the following are in Lawrence, viz., Union, Pine Grove, Lawrence, Center, Mount Vernon, Buckhorn, Etna, Vesuvius, La Grange, Hecla, and Olive. The oldest of these , in this county, is Union, a view of which is given, showing on the left, the furnace, in the middle ground, the log huts of the workmen, with the store of the proprietors, while around is wild, hilly scenery, amid which these furnaces are usually embosomed.  Each of the furnaces employs, on an average, 70 yoke of oxen, “100 hands, sustain 500 persons, consume 560 barrels of flour, 1000 bushels of corn meal, 10,000 bushels of corn, 50,000 bushels of potatoes, beside other provisions, and tea, sugar and coffee in proportion”. From this it will be seen, that their existence is highly important to the agriculturist.  In the winter season, about 500 men come from abroad to cut wood for the furnaces in Lawrence; some of whom walk distances of hundreds of miles from their cabin homes among the mountains of Virginia and Kentucky.”

The entire Hanging Rock Iron Region gets its name from the little village of Hanging Rock, located a few miles below the City of Ironton.  It gets its name from a high imposing rock cliff leaning over towards the river. Tradition has it that the American Indians used this high point as a lookout for enemies traveling the Ohio River.

Henry Howe had this to say about Hanging Rock on page 29:

 “Hanging Rock, 17 miles below the county seat, on the Ohio river contains 1 church, 4 stores, a forge, a rolling mill, and a foundery–where excellent bar iron is made–and about 150 inhabitants.  It is the great iron emporium of the county and nearly all the iron is shipped there.  It is contemplated to build a railroad from this place, of about 15 miles in length, to the iron region, connection it with the various furnaces.  The village is named from a noted cliff of sandstone, about 400 feet in height, called the “Hanging Rock”, the upper portion of which projects over, like the cornice of a house.

Some years since, a wealthy iron master was buried at Hanging Rock, in compliance with his request, above ground, in an iron coffin.  It was raised about two feet from the ground, supported by iron pillars, resting on a flat stone.  Over all, was placed an octagonal building of wood, about 12 feet diameter and 15 high, painted white, with a cupola-like roof, surmounted by a ball. It was in fact a tomb, but of so novel a description as to attract crowds of strangers, to the no small annoyance of the friends of the deceased, who , in consequence, removed the building, and sunk the coffin into a grave near the spot.”

Side note by Emmett Conway.  The Ohio Presbyterian Church has a “Hanging Rock Presbytery” which meets regularly in the old Presbyterian Church in Hanging Rock village.

The following was a first hand conversation with a man who worked at Union Furnace as well as others. This was taken in part from The Ironton Register. Mr. Louderback gave this in 1892 while he was 81:

“While I was living with Josh Horner at Kelley’s Mills on Pine Creek, they began building Union Furnace. It was the first furnace in Lawrence County and it was of the old style. They began to build when I was 14. It was a short distance from my home and so I went to work for them hauling charcoal. Charcoal was then hauled in 150 bushel bed wagons. The wagons were pulled by oxen as there were no mules in the area at that time. James Rodgers, who ran the furnace, was the first man I ever saw who would count five pecks to the bushel. The furnace made about two tons a day. The output on Sunday was run into pigs, but during the week it was made into hollow- ware, stoves and other cast items. I used to skim the molten metal from the hearth and pour it into the molds. I have done that many a time.”

The Ohio Geological Survey, 1870 , on page 217 has this to say about Union Furnace:

“From these general remarks, it will be seen that there is, in the lower Coal measures of the 2nd District, a large development of very fine iron ore. The ores, as a whole, are much richer and purer than the coal measures ores in other parts of the country, and give the District an enviable pre-eminence. The ‘Hanging Rock’ iron, (for this name is generally given to all the iron made south of the Hocking river,) is everywhere celebrated for its superior quality.

The first furnace in the Hanging Rock District was built in 1826, by Messrs. Sparks, Means & Fair. It was called the Union Furnace, and was situated about four miles back from the present Hanging Rock.  It is reported that it went into blast in 1827, and that the first fire in it was kindled by Thos. W. Means, Esq., now the senior partner of the firm of Means, Kyle & Co. That fire was kindled to some purpose for Mr. Means has lived to see nearly 50 furnaces in the Hanging Rock Iron District.”

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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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