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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Sandy Hook in Washington County, Maryland — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
 

Charcoal Making on Maryland Heights

 
 
Charcoal Making on Maryland Heights Marker image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 22, 2007
1. Charcoal Making on Maryland Heights Marker
Inscription. The charcoal industry required wood; Maryland Heights offered plenty. From 1810 to 1848 the Antietam Iron Works, 7 miles to the north, cut trees on the mountain to make charcoal to fuel its furnace and forges. The burning charcoal helped produce refined iron, from which the Antietam Iron Works made nails and other tools.

Just above you are the remains of a typical charcoal hearth, one of 57 recorded on the 783 acres of Maryland Heights. Colliers, the skilled men who made the charcoal, formed a hearth by clearing a level oblong platform on the mountain slope. Over a ten-day burning period, a hearth transformed 50 cords of wood into 1750 bushels of charcoal.

Crude sled and wagon roads formed the arteries of the charcoal industry. After cutting a woodlot, laborers dragged timber downhill along a sled road to a hearth, where the colliers made the charcoal. Then via wagon roads, teamsters hauled the charcoal off the mountain to the ironworks. Over time, about 23 miles of road covered these Heights. Many were later improved by Civil War soldiers. Some you hike today.

Building a Charcoal Pit
The collier first built a triangular chimney in the center of the hearth and filled it with wood chips and other flammable material. Next he stacked 30 to 50 cords of wood tightly around the chimney. Leaves and a layer of dirt
Charcoal Making on Maryland Heights Marker image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 22, 2007
2. Charcoal Making on Maryland Heights Marker
and charcoal dust completed the pit. The chimney was lit from the top and covered.

Tending the Charring
A burning hearth produced tremendous smoke. It needed constant care to prevent fire from burning through the outer layer. If too much air entered the stack, an open flame reduced the wood to useless ash. The demands of charring required a collier to live in a make-shift hut near the hearth during the burning period.

Acres to Burn
An iron works factor owned vast acres of hardwood forest which supplied charcoal to fuel their furnaces.
One cord of wood is 128 cubic feet.
Thirty cords equals one acre.
A charcoal hearth burned two acres.
A furnace burned up 276 acres annually.
 
Location. 39° 20.079′ N, 77° 43.448′ W. Marker is in Sandy Hook, Maryland, in Washington County. Marker can be reached from Sandy Hook Road. Touch for map. Located at a wayside trail stop on the Stone Fort Trail loop, Maryland Heights, in Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. Marker is in this post office area: Knoxville MD 21758, United States of America.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Making a Mountain Citadel (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); 100 - Pounder Battery - Heaviest and Highest (about 700 feet away);
One of the Charcoal Hearths image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 22, 2007
3. One of the Charcoal Hearths
A tree has grown into the cleared section that once was a charcoal hearth.
30-Pounder Battery (approx. 0.2 miles away); Hiking Maryland Heights (approx. 0.2 miles away); Civil War Campgrounds (approx. mile away); Naval Battery (approx. 0.3 miles away); Maryland Heights - Mountain Fortress of Harpers Ferry (approx. 0.4 miles away); Exterior Fort (approx. half a mile away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Sandy Hook.
 
More about this marker. Drawings on the marker illustrate the building of a charcoal pit and the burning of the hearth. Another drawing illustrates a cord of wood was 8 feet long by 4 feet wide by six feet tall.
 
Regarding Charcoal Making on Maryland Heights. This marker is one of a set along the National Park Service's trail to the top of Maryland Heights. You can see the other markers in this set through the Maryland Heights Virtual Tour by Markers link below.
 
Also see . . .
1. Maryland Heights. National Park Service details about the heights and the hiking trail. (Submitted on January 27, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.)
Trace of a Charcoal Road image. Click for full size.
By Craig Swain, September 22, 2007
4. Trace of a Charcoal Road
Rocky and somewhat eroded.
 

2. The Historic Iron And Charcoaling Industries In Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Article detailing the production of iron and its supporting industries of charcoaling and lime production. Offers Additional details of hearth building. (Submitted on January 27, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.) 

3. Maryland Heights Virtual Tour by Markers. A set of markers relating the history of Maryland Heights in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. (Submitted on February 2, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.) 

4. Antietam Iron Works. The Antietam Furnace mentioned on the marker was located near the mouth of Antietam Creek, near this marker for the bridge to the Iron Works. A photo of the furnace as it stands today is on the marker page. (Submitted on February 2, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.) 
 
Categories. Industry & CommerceNatural Resources
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on January 27, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia. This page has been viewed 1,365 times since then and 11 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on January 27, 2008, by Craig Swain of Leesburg, Virginia.
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