The Hopewell Furnace and the Impact on the Mahoning Valley
By: Rhonda Farabee
STRUTHERS – Yellow Creek Park is well known for its charming trails and beautiful wildlife, but it is also the home of Ohio’s first blast furnace; the Hopewell Furnace.
According to the archives at the Mahoning Valley Historical Society, the use of the blast furnace was established in Europe in the 17th century and eventually found it’s way into North America. The very first one was built in 1802 by Daniel and James Heaton. It was the first blast furnace west of the Allegheny and was utilized until 1812. This furnace marked the beginning of the Iron and Steel industry in the Mahoning Valley
Dr. Donna DeBlasio, a History Professor at YSU, explained, “The Mahoning Valley became the second largest steel producer in the United States. One major improvement made to the furnace was that instead of blowing cold air into it, they used hot.” “This meant that it would burn hotter to melt faster.” She continued.
The Hopewell Furnace, which was built behind Lake Hamilton, needed the lakes power. DeBlasio stated, “They needed a water source and also the run-off.” “This is also used with iron furnaces and steel mills too.” She added. The location of the furnace was part of the efficient strategy needed to operate it. Lake Hamilton was a source for iron which was needed to work the furnace.
Also, Julie Pantelas, who is the park manager at Yellow Creek also commented, “It was important that there was a hillside behind the furnace.” “They could dump the fuel from the top to get the heat hot enough and they had molds that the metal would be put into.” she continued.
So why did the Hopewell Furnace halt production?
Dr. Thomas Leary, who is an Assistant History Professor at YSU, explained that the use of the furnace came to an abrupt end when the resources ran out. “The iron-making only lasted as long as the forest. Once the forest was gone there wasn’t enough resources to keep it going.”
Since the landmark was a stone-stack charcoal furnace, there were three elements needed to operate the furnace: iron ore, carbon based fuel, and flux, all of which were put into the top. Air would then be blown into the bottom of it to produce molted metal. Leary explained that there was also an accidental “blow-out” of the furnace and there is a theory that land ownership was also a big problem that aided in it’s demise.
DeBlasio said, “Europe was the first to experience the lack of resources, but here it was easier to make charcoal to mine the coal and coal was more efficient.”
The Hopewell Furnace impacted the city of Struthers by bringing jobs to the area. Families began moving into the area because the work was good and it was a nice place settle down in. If it wasn’t for the Heaton brothers, Struthers might not be the populated city it is today. “The impact of the Hopewell Furnace was massive. Not just for Struthers, but for all of Ohio.” DeBlasio specified.
However, hard times still fell upon the old furnace. Resources began running scarce and this was a cause for concern. “We kept making it even though we were running out of the natural resources. This had a huge impact on iron production.” DeBlasio stated.
Although the historical landmark has seen better days, there are still some remnants that reside in Yellow Creek. Pantelas says that the site is still among interest to many people even though most of the furnace is now gone. “Every summer, at least once a week, people inquire about the furnace, but there is a problem; thieves.” Pantelas explains, “Someone removed two really large pieces of the furnace that were still intact. They looked so heavy and I can’t even comprehend how they did it let alone why.”
Even though there are few artifacts left, there is still evidence of the existence of the furnace and Yellow Creek is always ready to share the history with anyone who may be curious. Many Struthers residents know of the Hopewell Furnace, but surprisingly not all of them have actually seen it. When the water is at a low level, the streams are easier to cross, providing a clear path for inquiring visitors. With Lake Hamilton just up the hill, it’s a wonderful experience for everyone.
The Hopewell Furnace has been a monument to help educate students about the city’s local history. John R. White, who is now deceased, was involved in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at YSU. He led three seasons of excavations at the site and his research on the Hopewell Furnace has been a helpful resource to anyone interested.
For more information regarding the Hopewell Furnace, you can contact the Mahoning Valley Historical Society at (330) 743-2589. To visit the furnace, contact Yellow Creek Park at (330) 755-7275.