Iron Furnaces was once the backbone of Lawrence County’s economy. Around 1900, the Hanging Rock Iron Region of southern Ohio and northern Kentucky produced most of the iron in the United States. More than one person’s fortune was made and lost to the iron industry.
Iron furnaces were not just places to work. They were also places to live and socialize. Families lived in the communities surrounding the furnaces. The furnace owner had a company store where employees and other local people could buy whatever they could afford.
Whenever you visit an iron furnace, remember than many people live, worked and died there. Furnaces were operating twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. The workers had hot, dirty, and hard work and received little money. Often they barely made enough money to pay for their supplies needed to work. Much like the coal miners, furnace workers often ended up owing more money to their employers than they made. They were often paid in script that could only be used at the company store which had inflated prices to guarantee more debt. Regardless of the hardships, iron workers did have steady income and jobs.
The furnace owner, however, could make a fortune if they knew what they were doing. Some of the America’s wealthiest people of the age were industry owners. Their money helped build Ironton and its surrounding area.
Some of the furnaces operating in our area were Center, Etna, Hecla, Lawrence, Oak Ridge, Olive, Washington, Buckhorn, Vesuvius, La Grange, and Pioneer. According to the Aggregate Statistics of 1840, Ohio had 72 furnaces, produced 35,236 tons of cast iron, consumed 104,312 tons of fuel, and 2,268 men employed in the field.