For over fifty years during the 19th Century, Stewart County was the center of the iron industry of Tennessee. For instance, in 1854, the county produced as much, tonnage-wise, as the next two largest producing counties in middle Tennessee and over four times as much as all the counties in the east Tennessee area.
Mining and production started in Stewart County shortly before 1828; the last blast furnace in the county went out of operation in 1927, although the majority of the other furnaces remaining after its period of greatest activity went out of blast around the turn of the century.
Ore was secured from orebodies lying near the surface. There was very little of the intensive type of mining now practiced elsewhere. The ore was "broke ore," or heratite, in the majority of the cases, with a few deposits of limonite.
The blast furnaces were all of the "stone stack" cold-blast charcoal-using type. Air pressure was secured originally by water power which was gradually supplanted by steam. Charcoal was obtained by burning the timber available from the adjoining woods, in open pits or heaps covered with leaves and coal dust. It took a cord of wood to yield 33 bushels of charcoal to make a ton of cold-blast iron. Practically all labor was by hand, and all hauling was by mule or ox-wagon. Recognizable ruins of furnaces are to be found at the Model, Bear Spring, Bellwood and Hollister sites. Forges and rolling mills existed to convert the pig-iron from blast furnaces into usable products. The end-products were mainly pots or boilers; these last were famous in steamboat days, where their reliability against explosion made them much sought after. A typical complete operation of this kind was the Woods-Yeatman one, embracing the blast furnaces at Carlisle and Bear Spring, the bloomary or forge at Randolph, and the Cumberland Rolling Mill, which also had attached a nail factory.
The War between the States put an end to a large portion of the Stewart County iron industry. Efforts were made to revive it, and these were partially successful, until the cheapness of production from foreign sources, chiefly Sweden, and the more extensive orebanks elsewhere, brought the operation to a close.
(Points Indicated on the Map):
1. Ashland Furnace - Built 1851, by Hilister & Phillips, who used the stones from the Van Buren Stack, which had been built nearby in 1839. Nine ft. across the bosh, 35 ft. high. It went out of blast following the capture of Fort Donelson.
2. Bear Spring Furnace - Built 1830, by Woods, Yeatman & Co. 10 ft. across bosh, 37 ft. high. The original stack was abandoned in 1854, in favor of Dover Furnace. Destroyed in Feb., 1862, by Federal gunboats. Stack now standing was built in 1873, abandoned about 1889. Operated under new management, 1890-1901. It originally used water power. State highway 49 now uses the right-of-way of a railroad from its site to Tennessee Ridge. 15 miles south.
3. Bellwood Furnace - Built 1850 by Woods, Yeatman & Co. Nine ft. across bosh, 32 ft. high. It operated until the day following the fall of Fort Donelson, when a Federal gunboat destroyed it. Ruins of its stack still stand.
4. Brunsoni Furnace - Believed to have been built in 1828 by Brunson, its life was short and unimportant.
5. Byron Forge - Built 1845, by Hal Hollister & Bro., in 1859, it had one cupola runout and four knobling fires with two steam hammers it closed in 1862.
6. Byron Furnace - Built 1840 by Hal Hollister & Bro. In 1845, J.L. James built for them here a forge of the same name.
7. Carlisle Furnace - Built in 1841, by Woods, Yeatman & Co., it was abandoned and dismantled early in its existence, in favor of Dover Furnace No. 2, nearby.
8. Clark Furnace - built in 1855 and operated by Cobb, Phillips & Co., of standing rock nine and one-half feet across the bosh, with stack 34 ft. high. It discontinued regular operation in 1856, but was operated sporadically until 1861. Returned to blast in 1865, it finally closed about 1880.
9. Cross Creek Furnace - Built 1853; operated by Jordan, Brother & Co., Indian mound, 10 ft. across bosh, 41 ft. high. Finally went out of blast, 1862.
10. Cumberland Rolling Mill - Built in 1829; operated by Woods, Lewis & Co. It had two puddling and seven heating furnaces, with four trans of steam-driven rolls, in 1856. It was destroyed by Federal gunboats following the fall of Fort Donelson. Following an attempt to rebuild, it was moved to Rock Castle, Ky., and renamed the Tennessee Rolling Mill.
11. Dover Furnace No. 2 - Rebuilt 1854, replacing a furnace built in 1820; operated by Woods, Lewis & Co., 9 ft. across bosh, 32 ft. high. Destroyed by Federal forces in 1862. Rebuilt about 1865 and operated until 1873. Repaired in 1899, it was partially burned in 1903. Repaired in 1905. It continued operation until 1821, with closing in 1918 due to war conditions. Back in blast in 1924, it continued operations until 1927, when it finally closed. The last cold blast charcoal furnace to operate in the United States.
12. Eclipse Furnace - Built in 1833; operated by Cobb, Phillips & Co., nine and one-half feet across the bosh 36 feet high. Except for being out of blast 1861-65, it operated until about 1885.
13. Great Western Furnace - Built 1854 by Brian, Newell & Co. from local limestone. 10 feet across the bosh, stack 40 ft. high. It closed in 1856 because of a slave insurrection and ore depletion.
14. Hollister Furnace - Little data exists on this furnace, except that it was built in 1830. It is believed to have gone out of blast before 1861.
15. Iron Mountain Furnace - Built 1854 by Brian, Newell, & Co. About the same size as Great Western Furnace. Used ore from surface deposits only. Closed 1855, but re-opened briefly in 1859, when it was bought by Ledbetter & Bostick.
16. LaGrange Furnace - Built 1838, operated by Cobb, Phillip & Co. Originally a hot-blast furnace, it changed to cold-blast in 1857. Eight feet across the bosh. 38 ft. high. Resuming operation in 1865, after being out of blast during the Civil War. It burned in 1892.
17. Peytona Furnace - Built in 1847, rebuilt in 1856; operated by Thomas Kirkman. Nine feet across the bosh. 42 ft. high. It operated until 1861-62. It was named for a famous Sumner County race mare, which once defeated and once lost to fashion in memorable match races in New York and New Jersey in 1845.
18. Randolph Forge - The first of these two forges was built about 1840. It had two forge and 18 knobling fires with two steam hammers. It took most of the pig output of Dover and Carlisle Furnaces, with which it was connected by "eight or nine miles of the finest cinder road in Tennessee," according to an authority in 1859. It closed with the destruction of its companion operation by Federals.
19. Randolph Furnace - Built 1837 by Woods, Yeatman & Co. It went out of blast in 1840 and two forges in succession occupied the locality on which it had been built.
20. Rough and Ready Furnace - Built 1850; operated by Barksdale, Cook & Co., Indian mound. Eight ft. across Bosh, 30 ft. high. Out of blast in 1858, again from 1862 to 1865. It finally closed in 1874.
21. Saline Furnace - Built 1843 by Lewis, Irwin & Co. Nine feet across the bosh, with stack 38 ft. high. It was abandoned in 1854 because of exhaustion of ore supply.
22. Union Furnace - Built 1853; operated by Hobert McFall, Palmyra, Montgomery Co. Nine ft. across the bosh, 35 ft. high. Went out of blast, 1859, on account of depletion of ore bank.
23. Valley Forge - Built 1852; operated by Jordan Bros. & Co. It had one forge, seven knobling fires and one steam hammer. It shut down following Federal occupation.