The stone stack in front of you is all that remains of the Catharine Furnace, built in 1837. Close a decade later, the furnace was reborn to meet the Confederacy's wartime need for iron. Union cavalrymen under General George A. Custer destroyed the furnace in 1864, but it was rebuilt and continued to produce iron for the Confederacy until 1865. Catharine Furnace was the last of the region's several major operations to close.
During its years of operation, Catharine Furnace used many buildings and employed dozens of laborers. Workers cut and hauled wood, excavated iron ore and lime, operated the furnace, and hauled the finished iron to market. When not needed for furnace operations, workers cultivated land previously cleared of timber.
(Sidebar) Iron-making required four elements: iron ore, limestone, charcoal, and a source of power. Fueled by charcoal and fanned by a bellows, the furnace reached temperatures in excess of 2,800 degrees. Deposits of iron ore were dumped down the stack onto the fire. Lime was then added to draw impurities from the molten iron. The super-heated iron and lime deposits melted and ran out the bottom of the stack. Workers skimmed off the impurities (slag) and channeled the purified iron into sand molds. The solid iron bars that resulted, known as pigs, were then transported to a forge elsewhere, where skilled craftsmen fashioned them into pots, kettles, tools and other useful items.