The Snowden family owned Patuxent Ironworks until 1847 when Andrew and Elias Ellicott purchased land from the Snowdens and erected the Muirkirk Furnace. The Ellicotts operated the Furnace until 1860 when it was purchased by one of Boston's leading iron manufactures, William E. Coffin. Coffin's son Charles renamed it Muirkirk Ironworks and managed it from 1860 until his death in 1912, when it was passed on to his son Ellery.
After emancipation (1864 in Maryland), little changed in the racial composition, treatment and conditions for the labor force of Muirkirk Ironworks. Ironworks were often locate in remote areas and functioned as independent entities. Owners such as Coffin provided homes and schools, and employment for the workers' wives. Muirkirk ironworkers shopped at the company store on credit. While these conditions contributed to a restrictive environment at the ironworks, they also encouraged strong communal bonds among those who worked and lived there.
During and after slavery, the ironworkers provided for many of their own needs and formed a community. One of the first community structures built was a church. In 1868, six men, paid five dollars for a plot on Muirkirk Road to erect "a place of public worship for the Colored people of the neighborhood." The log chapel they built was named Queen's Chapel after one of the original founders and functioned as both a church and school.
Twenty years later, Augustus Ross, a Muirkirk ironworker, purchased land one mile east of the ironworks and built a two-story log home. Other ironworkers also purchased property and built houses forming the community of Rossville. A neighboring plot of land was sold to the Benevolent Sons of Abraham, who constructed Rebecca Lodge #6, also known as Abraham Hall. The members of this benevolent society pooled their money to create an insurance fund that paid illness and death benefits.
The Patuxent and Muirkirk Ironworks contributed to the identity of the greater Laurel area and African American ironworkers were essential to that identity. The communities they built as slaves and free people serve as vital reminders of the ironworkers' place in ths story of America's industrial past.
Stationary of the Muirkirk Ironworks highlights the celebrated tensile strength of its pig iron. The company also had its own rail and telegraph line on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Circa 1900. Courtesy of the Maryland Historical Society
Map of the Vansville area, showing the Muirkirk iron mines and surrounding neighborhoods.
Muirkirk Ironworks, circa 1920. Courtesy of the University of Maryland, McKeldin Library
Charles Coffin who managed the Muirkirk Ironworks from 1860 until his death in 1912. Photo circa 1904. Courtesy of the University of Maryland, McKeldin Library
Photograph of Queen's Chapel Methodist Episcopal Church.
This circa 1925 photo shows ironworkers with their children in front of homes built for and rented to them by Charles Coffin. Several families lived in one house. Courtesy of the Maryland State Archives
Muirkirk ironworkers, circa 1920. Back row (left to right): John Weems, unknown, Meshach Conway, Williams Tolliver, Benjamin Conway, unknown. Middle Row: William Stewart, Will Franklin, unknown. Front Row: Shadrach Conway, Reason Ross. Courtesy of Maria Crump Matthews
Photo of African American men at the ironworks circa 1920. The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad tracks appear in the foreground. After the ironworks closed, many of Muirkirk's African American workers got jobs on the Railroad. Courtesy of B&O Railroad Museum
Building on the grounds of Muirkirk Ironworks. Courtesy of the University of Maryland, McKeldin Library
Charcoal kilns at Muirkirk, circa 1920. Charcoal was manufactured practically year round. The buildings located closely behind the kilns housed African American workers and their families. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.
A view of Muirkirk Ironworks which displays the furnace and two buildings on the grounds of the ironworks. Courtesy of the University of Maryland, McKeldin Library
Furnace used at Muirkirk Ironworks to manufacture pig iron. The photo was taken in 1921, a year after the Ironworks closed. The furnace was built in 1847 and rebuilt in 1888 after a fire. The stack measured 38 x 8.5 feet with a production capacity of 7,000 tons. Courtesy of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.