MHT File Photo
East Main Street, , Lonaconing, , Allegany County
The George's Creek Coal and Iron Company Furnace No. 1 is a truncated square pyramid 50' high, 50' square at the base, and 25' square at the top. Sandstone blocks were held in place by wrought iron binders. The furnace is built at the base of "Dug Hill," now known as "Scotch Hill." Some portions of the retaining walls remain and a stone arch springing from the back wall of the furnace connects it with what was formerly the top-house yard. The 16' tymp arch and the two tuyere arches are faced with bricks manufactured on the company's premises. Regrettably, the furnace has been used as an incinerator, and the arches are almost completely filled with ashes. The hearth and interior of the furnace are therefore not visible. Reliable contemporary sources report the conical interior of the furnace as 14 1/2' wide at the boshes and 5 1/2' wide at the trunnel head. The company had intended to line it with fire brick, but as a matter of expediency lined it with sandstone in order to get into blast more quickly. The sandstone inwalls were plastered with fire clay to protect them from the intense heat. It is possible that the interior of the furnace was relined with fire brick at some later date. A contemporary source also indicates that some of the interior stones of the furnace measured 6' x 4' x 2' and weighed as much as 7,200 pounds each. The cast-iron beams providing additional support for the furnace stack above the arches are visible, as are portions of the iron binders where the east wall has partially crumbled. The ends of the binders in the lowest tier are fastened with keys, while those in the upper tiers are fastened with nuts. Until the iron operation was abandoned in the mid 1850s, the Loncaconing Furnace complex included a top house, molding house, engine house, and two hot-air furnaces for heating the blast. None of these ancillary structures remains.
The Lonaconing Furnace, which produced its first iron in 1839, is primarily significant for its role in demonstrating that both coke and raw bituminous coal could be used as fuels in the manufacture of iron. Despite the fact that furnaces in England and Wales had long since adopted coke as their smelting fuel, most American founders until well beyond 1840 continued to use charcoal, which produced a high-quality iron suitable equally for the blacksmith's forge, for the larger-scale manufacture of wrought iron, or for castings. Frederick Overman, one of the principal American authorities on iron metallurgy in the mid 19th century, described the George's Creek Coal and Iron Company furnace as "the first coke furnace, whose operation was successful, erected in this country." Several Pennsylvania ironmasters had attempted to use coke, but for various reasons had found their operations unsatisfactory and had either disposed of their works or had returned to the use of charcoal. The Lonaconing Furnace was also of significance for having been among the first in the country to use a machine-powered hot blast. A 60 H.P. steam engine and five steam boilers were transported by ship, railroad, canal boat, and wagon all the way from the West Point Foundry in New York. In size and design the Lonaconing Furnace was the model for the few other coke-fueled furnaces built before 1850. The pioneering operations of the George's Creek Coal and Iron Company were responsible for the establishment of the town of Lonaconing, and were in part responsible for the location of the B & O Railroad line from Cumberland to Piedmont, West Virginia. They were also in large measure responsible for the opening of the important coal trade in the George's Creek valley southwest of Frostburg. It was the coal trade of the George's Creek basin from Barrellville to Westernport which was responsible for the prosperity of Western Maryland between the Civil War and World War I.