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Monday, July 24, 2006

Visit Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

Image: NPS

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (Located on the border between Berks and Chester Counties near Elverson Borough in, Pennsylvania) is one of the finest examples of a rural American 19th century iron plantation. The buildings include a blast furnace, the ironmaster's mansion, and auxiliary structures. Hopewell Furnace was founded in 1771 by Ironmaster Mark Bird. The furnace operated until 1883. Hopewell Furnace preserves an industry and lifestyle once common, but now nearly forgotten. It is the finest example of an early American "iron plantation," forerunner of today's iron and steel industries.

Image: NPS

Mark Bird chose the site because of its proximity to roads which linked the furnace to nearby markets and to the raw materials of iron ore, limestone, and trees to make into charcoal. The charcoal fueled furnace produced pig iron and finished castings from 1771 until 1883, making Hopewell one of Pennsylvania's most important furnace operations.

During the Revolutionary War, Hopewell workers cast cannon, shot, and shell for the patriot forces. Reaching its peak of prosperity from 1820 to 1844, the furnace workers produced pots, kettles, machinery, and grates. From 1826 to 1827, doors and door frames were made for the new Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia. Though Hopewell cast many items, the most profitable were coal and wood burning stoves.

At Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, you can experience a 19th century iron community, its lifestyle and operations. The restored furnace, water wheel, blast machinery, ironmaster's mansion, and numerous other structures are now quiet reminders of a thriving industry which once flourished in rural Pennsylvania.

Primarily an area that is significant for its cultural resources, Hopewell Furnace consists of 14 restored structures in the core historic area, 52 features on the List of Classified Structures, and a total of 848 mostly wooded acres. Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site is surrounded by French Creek State Park which preserves the lands the furnace utilized for its natural resources.

Image: NPS, Today, with water from French Creek still flowing over it, the waterwheel continues to provide a blast of air into the bottom of the furnace.

All early ironworks used water to power huge bellows which blew air into the furnace. At Hopewell Furnace, a dam was built on French Creek to create a small lake. A ditch or race allows the water to run to the waterwheel. As the water fills each bucket of the wheel, the weight of the water turns the wheel. As it turns, the water pours out and runs back into the creek. The race which brings the water to the wheel is called the headrace and the one that carries the water back to the creek is the tailrace.

Image: NPS, A side view of the Wheel House. The race, leading from French Creek, can be seen coming in on the left.

For a long time, when the 30-foot-diameter wood waterwheel turned at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, it filled the entire valley with a great shuddering noise as aging parts struggled to hold together. Now, a renewed wheel is being assembled piece by piece, signaling a revitalized park on the far western edge of Chester County, at a place that the director of the National Park Service, Fran Mainella, has admitted was 'long forgotten' by the agency. When the wheel starts turning in August, visitors should hear only a quiet creak of wood and the fast-flowing stream powering the demonstration of 18th-century iron-making technology.

Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed on some federal holidays, please call ahead. Allow 2 hours minimum for your visit.

$4, ages 17 and over; 16 and under free. Additional fees are charged for educational and interpretive programs. Family Rates and Golden Age, Golden Access, and Golden Eagle Passports are available. Dogs are welcome at Hopewell Furnace NHS, but must remain on a leash and attended at all times. Dogs are not permitted in any of the park's buildings. The domestic animals on the farm can be easily startled by dogs and a safe distance is recommended.

From the North: Take PA Rt. 422 to PA Rt. 82 South for 1.0 mi., turn left onto PA Rt. 724 East for 0.6 mi., turn right onto PA Rt. 345 South. The park entrance will be on your right in 5.0 miles.
From the East: Take the PA Turnpike (I 76) Westbound to Exit 23, take PA Rt. 100 North for 9.1 mi., turn left onto PA Rt. 23 West for 7.1 mi., turn right onto PA Rt. 345 North. The park entrance will be on your left in 3.9 miles.
From the West: Take the PA Turnpike (I 76) Eastbound to Exit 22, take PA Rt.10 South for 0.9 mi., turn left onto PA Rt. 23 East for 5.3 mi., turn left onto PA Rt. 345 North. The park entrance will be on your left in 3.9 miles.

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site
2 Mark Bird Lane, Elverson, PA 19520
(610) 582 8773 (voice) or (610) 582 2093 (TDD)

Take a Virtual Tour of Hopewell Furnace NHS

Hopewell Furnace NHS: Calendar of Events for 2006

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