The Furnaces of Rivertownes

Musselman - Vesta Furnace

 
 
Old Vesta Furnace
Original artwork by Klaus Grutzka. Courtesy of Marietta Restoration Associates.

The History

The Musselman - Vesta Furnace was built in 1868 by Henry Musselman of Marietta and Henry Miller Watts, of Carlisle. It was the last of the eight anthracite-fired hot blast iron furnaces to be built on the river floodplain between Columbia and Marietta, and the last complete blast furnace to be constructed in Lancaster County.

Shortly after completion of the furnace, the partnership of Musselman and Watts, which had been responsible for building the neighboring Marietta furnaces as well, dissolved. Henry Musselman took the new furnace, which he renamed Musselman's Furnace, and H. M. Watts kept the Marietta Furnaces. In 1870 Musselman's Furnace was producing an annual yield of 5400 tons of pig iron. In 1879 H. Musselman and Sons sold the furnace to the firm of Watts, Twell and Company. In subsequent years, the furnace was remodeled several times. Ores for the furnace were obtained from Maryland and West Virginia, as well as from Cornwall and local mines. By 1886 its annual capacity had increased to 22,500 tons of pig iron. Known now as the Vesta Furnace, its products were described as "neutral forge and superior foundry iron" and sold under the brand name "Vesta". View 1886 map of furnace.

In 1887 the furnace was sold to Columbia Rolling Mill Company, remodeled in 1890 with the addition of two Whitwell stoves, and sold in 1899 to Susquehanna Iron and Steel Company (which also owned the Aurora Furnace in Wrightsville), who modernized it and in 1908 sold it to the Susquehanna Iron Company.

In 1917 the Susquehanna Iron Company sold the furnace to E. J. Lavino of Sheridan, Pennsylvania. Lavino put it back into operation smelting scrap and producing ferromanganese, used for high grade steel, during World War I. According to George Miller, a local Marietta resident who worked at the furnace for 16 years before it closed, ten carloads of scrap iron and manganese ore were fed into the furnace each day to produce a daily output of 80 tons of ferromanganese. Miller noted that the manganese ores came from all over the world and its ferromanganese product was shipped to Youngstown, Ohio, Coatesville and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The furnace burned coke (five carloads per day) which came from Connellsville in western Pennsylvania. The furnace then had four hot blast stoves which preheated air to 1300 degrees Farenheit, two large blowing engines, a gas washer and dryer to precondition gasses before they were sent to preheaters and boilers and an elaborate pumping system to bring water from the river for the steam engines. New stock sheds and railway lines on concrete piers were also added.

The Lavino Company owned the furnace property until 1949, but production of iron ceased in the 1920's and the furnace was dismantled sometime between 1928 and 1934. The property was eventually acquired by Lancaster County as a part of Chickies Rock County Park.

Restoration of the Musselman - Vesta Office Building

The Musselman - Vesta Office Building is the only intact structure that remains from the furnace complex. (This excludes the nearby buildings on Furnace Road and Donegal Place which are now private homes.) Marietta Restoration Associates, in collaboration with Rivertownes, PA USA, is managing the restoration of this building, with plans to restore it to its original 1880's condition. Potential uses for the restored building include a diorama-type museum showcasing the local iron industry, as well as canal, railroad and lumber business history. Click here to read more on the restoration project.

Please Help

Musselman - Vesta Office Building Donations may be made to Marietta Restoration Musselman - Vesta Fund, PO Box 3, Marietta, PA 17547

Purchase prints of original art by Klaus Grutzka illustrating the furnace (Lavino period). These are available on paper or on slate removed from the original roof of the building at the Bank Museum Gift Shop on Market Street in Marietta.

Contact (717)426-4736 or email ljdjr@comcast.net for other ways to help with this project.

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