The Furnaces of Rivertownes

Shawnee Furnaces

Photo courtesy of Lancaster County Historical Society.

The History

Early in the 1840's the first anthracite furnace in Lancaster County was built by Robert and James Colvin. The original furnace was a small affair, only eight feet in the bosh with a twenty-eight foot stack, Named for the nearby Shawnee Run, the Shawnee Furnace would grow to become a complex of three furnaces, and a series of rambling buildings that entirely dominated an area of Columbia bounded by Fifth, Mill, Union and Shawnee Streets. It also boasted a complex of rail lines that extended across Lancaster Avenue as far as Eleventh and Blunston Streets connecting with the Reading and Columbia Railroad.

The original stack was charged from a bridge that joined the furnace top to a hill south of Union Street. The furnace produced only about 2000 tons of the first two lesser grades of foundry iron per year until 1856 when the furnace was enlarged to thirty-three feet in height with a ten-foot bosh. Production of Grade III foundry iron was begun after the remodeling. The second stack, constructed in 1853, was forty-seven feet high and had a fourteen-foot bosh; its rated annual capacity was 5500 tons. The third stack, forty-six feet in height with a bosh of eleven feet, was erected in 1859 after the Furnace came under the ownership of the Chestnut Hill Iron Ore Company. The furnaces were modernized numerous times throughout their lifetime, including the installation of a hydraulic hoist that was used to lift raw materials to the top for loading.

Although furnace records always refer to the stacks as No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3; apparently they were known locally by more colorful names, as revealed by a citation in the Columbia Spy:

Chestnut Hill Iron Ore Company's furnace "Josephine" which chilled about six weeks ago was blown in this week, being the shortest time on record in which a furnace has been repaired when chilled.

The furnaces continued to operate through 1894 in which year a total of 40,500 tons were produced. By 1899, the furnaces and all other structures of the iron works, including the railroad tracks over Union Street to the heads of the furnaces were removed. Even the cinder banks of the furnaces were removed in 1901 and used for construction of the Pennsylvania Railroad's low grade line between Atglen and Enola.

Today's Remnants

Shawnee Furnace Ruins

Retaining walls along the lower side of Union Street Hill are all that remain of the Shawnee Furnaces. This photo, taken from the rear parking lot of the former R & S Manufacturing site shows the overgrown area. The walls are sizeable and give a good idea of the extent of this site.





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