Most people know of the rich Civil War history of the Shenandoah Valley but few know that the valley was also rich in iron history. The era of valley iron production spanned over 180 years. The first iron furnace west of the Blue Ridge Mountains was built in this region. Over 35 bloomeries and blast furnaces were constructed and two modern blast furnaces were built and operated as late as 1908.
The recently published book, Shenandoah Iron, details the history of iron mining, smelting and transporting pig iron and cast products throughout the valley and later throughout the east as transportation improved.
It is interesting to note that the Civil War both helped and hurt the Virginia iron industry. The important role that valley iron played during the war is explored. Although the iron furnaces were primary targets of the Union army, few were put out of operation for more than a few weeks. Many operated for years after the war. How they alone survived the devastation of the war is recounted.
This 336-page book has over 139 photographs and illustrations to aid the reader in understanding the process from which iron is separated from the ore and turned into useful products.
The critical importance of the Shenandoah River and later the railroads in transporting iron ingredients and products, the major impact of German-Americans in the valley iron trade and why industrial slaves were held in high esteem are examined topics.
The book’s author, Norman H. Scott, is a native of western Virginia and has been exploring the iron industry for most of his life. “I used to explore the old furnaces and mines around Clifton Forge where I grew up and got interested in the iron history,” Scott noted. “Now that I have retired I decided to conduct serious research and write about the exciting history that I discovered,” he continued.
Scott’s work utilized sources including out-of-print books, old newspapers, maps and manuscripts. The three eras of iron production, bloomery forges, cold-blast charcoal furnaces and hot-blast coke furnaces are explained and illustrated. The furnaces and mines of Clarke, Frederick, Page, Rockingham, Shenandoah and Warren counties are noted and described.
Scott has written two other books, Iron and the Gap and A River of Iron, each detailing other regions of the iron belt of the valley of Virginia. His next book, Big Lick, Cripple Creek and Rye Valley Iron, will complete the series covering the entire valley between the Blue Ridge and the Alleghany Mountains from Frederick County in the north to Lee County in the south.