“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Rocky Mount in Franklin County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)

Washington Iron Works

Washington Iron Works Marker image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, May 27, 2013
1. Washington Iron Works Marker
Inscription. Click to hear the inscription.  Here stands the furnace and ironmaster’s house of the Washington Iron Works, Franklin County’s first industry. Originally established in 1773 by Col. John Donelson, father-in-law of President Andrew Jackson, the iron plantation was acquired in 1779 by Col. James Callaway and Jeremiah Early and expanded to 18,000 acres to become one of the last great iron plantations in Virginia. The Saunders family continued the operation until 1850, supplying iron locally and as far south as Georgia.

Franklin County Bicentennial 1786–1986.
Erected 1987 by Department of Conservation and Historic Resources. (Marker Number A-97.)
Location. 36° 59.337′ N, 79° 53.448′ W. Marker is in Rocky Mount, Virginia, in Franklin County. Marker is on South Main Street (Business U.S. 220) near Old Furnace Road, on the right when traveling south. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Rocky Mount VA 24151, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 11 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. First Franklin County Court (about 500 feet
Washington Iron Works Marker image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, May 27, 2013
2. Washington Iron Works Marker
Side street in the distance is Old Furnace Road.
away, measured in a direct line); Rocky Mount (approx. 0.4 miles away); Norfolk and Western Caboose (approx. 0.9 miles away); Franklin County (approx. 0.9 miles away); Carolina Road (approx. 4.4 miles away); Ferrum College (approx. 4.4 miles away); Fort Blackwater (approx. 4.4 miles away); Taylor’s Store (approx. 10½ miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Rocky Mount.
More about this marker. The furnace is off of Old Furnace road on Furnace creek. It is private property. The Ironmaster’s house is behind the mansion that faces Main Street.
Also see . . .  1972 National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. From the nomination form prepared by Anne Carter Lee.

Physical Appearance. The Washington Iron Furnace still stands, and in remarkably fine condition, on the old Iron Mine Branch of Pigg River which eventually took a new name, Furnace Creek, from the iron works. Built of granite, the quarry notches are still visible on the faces of the old furnace. The elongated and truncated pyramidal shape is usual in furnaces of its era. The hearth and bellows openings at the
View from the Marker of the Ironmaster’s House & Ordinary image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, May 27, 2013
3. View from the Marker of the Ironmaster’s House & Ordinary
base of the furnace curve upwards, then become linear and are capped with a strong stone lintel. The southern face of the furnace measures almost 30 feet, with its opening measuring a little over 12 feet. The eastern face is imbedded in the hillside but the opening is about 9' 9" and from the southeast corner to the opening it is also about 9' 9". Again as was usual, the furnace is set against the side of a hill so that the iron ore, charcoal, and limestone flux could be dumped into the furnace from the top. The bridge which once led from the side of the hill to the top of the furnace is no longer extant.

Statement of Significance. The Washington Iron Furnace stands as one of the oldest and best preserved iron furnaces in the Commonwealth. The earliest records of the furnace date from 1770 and are found in the Pittsylvania County records. At that time it was operated by John Donelson (father of Rachel Donelson who married Andrew Jackson) and was called “The Bloomery.” The county tax returns for 1773 report that Donelson employed four white men and six slaves to work the furnace:

Tithes at the Iron Works: John Holaway, Charles Holaway, Amos Spain, Thomas Bolton; Negroes Moody, Dick, Harry, Tames, Judith, and Nell.

In 1779, John and Rachel Donelson sold the furnace to Jeremiah Early (great-grandfather of General Jubal A.
Former Ironmaster’s House & Ordinary of the Washington Iron Works image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, May 27, 2013
4. Former Ironmaster’s House & Ordinary of the Washington Iron Works
Early) and James Calloway. Patriot fervor and friendship between Colonel Calloway and George Washington seems to have moved the new owners to rename The Bloomery, as it was previously referred to, Washington Iron Works. The joint ownership was short-lived for soon after the purchase Jeremiah Early died and on March 23, 1781. John Early sold his father’s interest to James Calloway (Ann Joplin, “The Washington Iron Works”).

The mining interests of Colonel Calloway extended beyond Franklin County, Miss. Maud Carter Clements in her history of the furnace appearing in the Virginia Cavalcade reports: “At this time of 1781 he was already the owner of the Oxford Iron Works, located near James River east of the present city of Lynchburg, and the Chiswell Lead Mines on New River, in southwest Virginia.”

Under his direction, the furnace seems to have flourished. A letter to a nephew of Colonel Calloway, Dr. Henry Greene Calloway of Callands in Pittsylvania County, gives an idea of the type of articles produced and their prices:

Washington Works, Aug. 19, 1805
Dear Sir,-
I received yours of the 16th inst., by the bearer, Mr. Augustin Dishon end have sent you by his return the different castings you wrote for as stated below, except the six gallon pott of which we have none on hand at this time. We shall shortly be in blast again, if you should want any other article of castings shall be glad to furnish you.
I am Dear Sir.
Very Respectfully
Yr Mo Ob't
Wm. Crump.

1 10 Gallon Pott. . . . . . . . . .. . . . .0.16.8
1 Large Oven. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0.14.0
1 Middle size oven. . . . . . . . . . . . .0.12.0
1 Large Skillet. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0. 5.0
1 Deep Skillet. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0. 3.0
1 Pair Fire Dogs. . . . . . . . . . . . . .0.15.0

Another product of the furnace was found several years ago by the grandson of the present owner who while playing around the furnace pulled out an old casting dated 1786 which may have been intended as a fireback. C. J. Davis of Rocky Mount also has some pig iron which is reputedly a product of the old iron works. Finally, many of the roads in the vicinity are supposed to have been laid with slag from the furnace.

The importance of the iron works was recognized very early in the history of Franklin County. Although the project was not fully carried out,

As early as 1796, the Legislature considered a Bill for making the Pigg River more navigable from its mouth to the Washington Iron Works. James Callaway, Benjamin Cook, Samuel Duval, Swinfield Hill and Josiah Wood were named as supervisors of the deepening and clearing of the channel. (Wingfield, p. 40)

Around 1820, the Saunders brothers, Peter, Jr., Samuel and Fleming purchased the Washington Iron Furnace as well as the Carron Furnace on Story Creek near Ferrum from the heirs of James Calloway (Clements, 1818, Joplin, 1820). The furnace seems to have continued to flourish under the direction of Peter Saundars, Jr. who managed it. The following advertisement appeared in the July 31, 1830 edition of The Milton Gazette & Roanoke Advertiser, published in Milton, North Carolina, a town on the Dan River in Caswell County near the Virginia line: Iron; Samuel Watkins & Co.; Have on hand and will continue to receive from the Washington Iron Works a complete assortment of Iron, which they will sell at $5, per 100 pounds cash.; May 29th (Clements)

In an 1836 Gazeteer of Virginia it was reported that one hundred men were employed at the furnace and forge. Many lived on the hill just across the creek from the furnace. Their comings and goings up and down it eventually gave this rise the name Skufflin Hill. The Gazeteer also reported that one hundred sixty tons of bar iron and castings were being manufactured each year. Clearly this was an extremely important industry for a town with a population, excluding the iron workers, of under two hundred.

On a hill neighboring the iron works stands The Farm at the Furnace. This seems to be the dwelling that was constructed about 1818 for Peter Saunders Junior. An extensive remodeling in 1850 converted the house into a Classical Revival Structure.
—A. C. L. (Submitted on June 15, 2013.) 
Categories. Industry & Commerce
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on June 15, 2013, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio. This page has been viewed 500 times since then and 63 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on June 15, 2013, by J. J. Prats of Powell, Ohio.
Editor’s want-list for this marker. Photos of the iron furnace. • Interior and other photos of the ironmaster’s house and Ordinary • Can you help?
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