04 April 2015

Catoctin Furnace area

A couple of weeks ago I took my kids and a friend up to see Cunningham Falls. While it was a bit cool, and there was still snow on the ground, it was nice to be able to get out for a walk. We got there a bit late to take part in the syrup demonstration but there was a collection of stuffed animals that live in the area.

eww a skunk.
After our hike we went to the Mountain Gate Family Restaurant. I haven't been there in many years, and I don't believe it has changed much.

On the way home we decided to take the back roads since we had time. Along the road we came across the Catoctin Furnace. Having not been there in many years, I had always assumed that it was on the west side of US 15. Since we had the time we stopped to take a look around.

The furnace was built in 1774 by the Johnson brothers, the most notable being Thomas, who was the first governor of Maryland. The furnace is located on a tract of 7,000 acres first purchased by Thomas and Leonard Calvert in 1770. In 1774 the land passed to the Johnson brothers, in 1793 Thomas and Baker Johnson owned the land and by 1803 it was owned solely by Baker. (History of Frederick County, p. 335)

The area around the furnace has a number of sites dealing with the history of area and has about a half mile trail that takes you by these sites. While not all of the sites related to the furnace, the majority of them do. There are a total of 7 stops along the trail, 1 and 2 are on the west side of US 15 the rest along the east side. The walking bridge that spans 15 connects the two sides, a bridge that I've driven under countless times but never knew what it went to.

Stop one is Little Hunting Creek, which supplied the water to the waterwheel at the furnace which activated the bellows. The creek was also rerouted and dammed to control the flow.

Little Hunting Creek
The second stop tells of the trees of the area and that it took about an acre of trees a day to keep the furnace running. After crossing over the bridge one comes to the slag heap. Slag is the impurities that come from the smelting of the iron ore. When it cools the air inside pops leaving holes in the slag and makes it easy to spot.

The next stop is the Bowstring arch bridge, built around 1872. It originally crossed Big Pipe Creek in Detour. Now it serves to cross Little Hunting Creek and to show what bridges of the era looked like.

Bowstring Bridge
The fifth stop is a map that gives an overview of how the creek was redirected and some of the other aspects of furnace works. The sixth stop is of the ruins of the ironmaster's home. At one point in time there were walkways inside of the house, but today the ruins are fenced off.

Ironmaster's house, the walkway has been closed.
The last stop is "Isabella", the furnace built in 1858. The casting shed and roof were rebuilt in 1975, the rest remains original.
Furnace Isabella, built 1758.

This is a nice stop for some local history, can be done in a short amount of time and has something for everyone so even the kids will not be bored. I believe one can park in the southern part of Cunningham Falls state park and walk to the furnace, though I'm not sure of the total distance. The town of Catoctin Furnace is across the street from the furnace and has a few old homes and buildings, though I didn't get a chance to stop and see the buildings and signs during this stop.

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