The charcoal industry required wood; Maryland Heights offered plenty. From 1810 to 1848 the Antietam Iron Works, 7 miles to the north, cut trees on the mountain to make charcoal to fuel its furnace and forges. The burning charcoal helped produce refined iron, from which the Antietam Iron Works made nails and other tools.
Just above you are the remains of a typical charcoal hearth, one of 57 recorded on the 783 acres of Maryland Heights. Colliers, the skilled men who made the charcoal, formed a hearth by clearing a level oblong platform on the mountain slope. Over a ten-day burning period, a hearth transformed 50 cords of wood into 1750 bushels of charcoal.
Crude sled and wagon roads formed the arteries of the charcoal industry. After cutting a woodlot, laborers dragged timber downhill along a sled road to a hearth, where the colliers made the charcoal. Then via wagon roads, teamsters hauled the charcoal off the mountain to the ironworks. Over time, about 23 miles of road covered these Heights. Many were later improved by Civil War soldiers. Some you hike today.
Building a Charcoal Pit
The collier first built a triangular chimney in the center of the hearth and filled it with wood chips and other flammable material. Next he stacked 30 to 50 cords of wood tightly around the chimney. Leaves and a layer of dirt and charcoal dust completed the pit. The chimney was lit from the top and covered.
Tending the Charring
A burning hearth produced tremendous smoke. It needed constant care to prevent fire from burning through the outer layer. If too much air entered the stack, an open flame reduced the wood to useless ash. The demands of charring required a collier to live in a make-shift hut near the hearth during the burning period.
Acres to Burn
· An iron works factor owned vast acres of hardwood forest which supplied charcoal to fuel their furnaces.
· One cord of wood is 128 cubic feet.
· Thirty cords equals one acre.
· A charcoal hearth burned two acres.
· A furnace burned up 276 acres annually.