Mt. Olive Furnace History  


Mt. Olive Furnace History
Written by Amos Hawkins

In 1846 John Campbell, John Peters, Madison Cole, William Clements and J. L. Thompson purchased about 3,600 acres of wilderness land 20 miles up the Iron Trail from the County Courthouse in Ironton . Their intention was to build another iron furnace next to Olive Creek. They hired miners whose task it would be to locate an ore seam, to strip mine the iron ore and to stockpile it. If the ore seam were deep below ground level and at least four feet in thickness, it would be drift mined. Some of the miners would locate limestone and begin mining it. All of this would be stockpiled and hauled to the furnace as soon as the furnace was ready. A note should be made here that the miners in those days did not have any protection against disasters in the mines nor did they have any protection against the rock dust or ore dust and many of them died from associated illnesses.1

The colliers would find a place next to a creek or a branch where they would cut and char wood for charcoal ( on a large meiler it could take as long as a month before the wood would be completely charred).

While this was going on in the woods, masons and stone cutters were hired to begin carving the lower portion of the cupalo. The upper portion would be of cut and hewed sandstone rocks laid one on top of the other in an overlapping way until the height of 38 feet was achieved.

When the bottom of the furnace was carved to the proper specifications, the stone masons began to build the inner lining of fire brick made in Scioto County. These bricks had the correct inward curve and the outward curve molded into them when they were fired. This was done to make the bottle shape of the inner lining. The inner lining and the outer shell were raised at about the same time usually, but at Olive the lower rock was carved first and then the firebrick of the inward lining was laid to the top of the carved rock and when they were the same height they were raised up together. The inner lining of fire brick was cemented into place with a mixture of fire clay and sand or ore dust. Regular cement would powder when heated and not hold.2 The outside shell would support the inward lining in various places as they went up. The hewed rocks of the outer shell were not cemented. They were held in place by their weight.

This furnace would have two Roman Arches. One would reach from the west side of the stack to the cliff behind and the other would reach from the north side of the stack to the north side cliff. Abutments had to be built on both the furnace and the hillside in order to support the arches. With this done the arches were put into place on a reinforced form and the keystone driven in place. A number of large rocks and dirt were paced on top of the arch for weight to hold it in place. The form was then removed and the arch was free standing.

These two arches would support the weight of the charging house, 2 boilers and smoke stack. The north arch would support Part of the charging house and the boilers. The boilers would be heated by the exhaust gases of the furnace. The back arch had to support the weight of the charging house and the first smoke stack.

Carpenters were hired to put up the different buildings that were needed-the storage sheds, the charging house, the charcoal house, the casting house, the engine room, the blacksmith shop, the carpenter shop, the company store, the church house, the schoolhouse and the homes for the workers. All lumber had to be sawed by hand to make boards. Cabins were made of logs.

For the first ten years of Olive Furnace, it was a cold blast furnace. 1857 saw repairs made to the furnace and it was changed from a cold blast to a hot blast furnace. The hot blast was heated in a ring type heater stove. This heater was placed in the exhaust stack on the southwest corner of the Charging Shed. This heater was changed in 1860 to a fifty pipe Davis Heater that sat at the end of the boilers This was changed again in 1883 to a Player 18 pipe Heater placed at the end of the boilers.

In the engine room, the steam machinery was replaced by larger machines. The steam engine was geared to the two blowers which was unusual as most furnaces used wide belts to drive the blowers. These blowers had 43 inch pistons with a 5 foot stroke while the engine had a 16 inch cylinder with a 6 foot stroke. During 1883, the stack height was raised to 40 feet3.

The first Iron Master for Mt Olive Furnace was John Peters, sr. He was the iron master until 1864 when Samuel McGugin, WN’s brother, bought John Peters’ part of the business. W.N. McGugin became the iron master. The operation became, “Campbell and McGugin Iron Works”. Samuel died in 1870 and John Campbell and W. N. McGugin bought out Samuel’s part and the company name remained the same. During 1883 John Campbell needed to liquidate some of his holdings, so he sold the furnace to W.N. McGugin and it became, “Mc Gugen Ironworks- Olive Furnace”. The last iron master for Olive Furnace was W. H. McGugin, W.N.’s son. This was when W. N. became to old to work. It probably was around 19074.

Olive Furnace was the last charcoal iron furnace to operate in Lawrence County, Ohio. Olive Furnace had been in blast for 63 years. The last charcoal iron furnace to blow out was Jefferson Furnace in Jackson County, Ohio.

When the furnace blew out it went into the receivership of one E. Berman. In late 1915 it was sold to Salle Brothers for scrap iron and much of it was destroyed during that time5.

From the very first of the furnace, runaway slaves were ushered through the area. One African American, John Mathews, also a resident of Olive, conducted a number of slaves through the area and on to Poke Patch, Berlin Crossing or other routes north. Other members of the town also helped in the underground. Another conductor on the UGRR from Ironton, was one James Ditcher who ushered runaways through the area and on to safer regions of the North6.

In 1847or 8, Captain Hagerty, who had purchased the rights to William Kelly”s air boiling method of making steel in Ohio, tried the process in Olive Furnace. He had trouble with the process and called on William Kelly to come and help get the process going correctly. Kelly came and moved the converter out to the front of the furnace. Molten iron was ladled into the converter from the furnace. It was successful, but not any better steel than the puddling system presently used, and more expensive. The result was that the process was dropped at the end of that year.

About 1856, Sir Henry Bessemer in England had also developed the same process and Patented his discovery in America. Kelly had not applied for a patent as he wanted to make certain the process worked. Kelly could not get his process patented because of the Bessemer patent. Kelly took this to court and sued for prior discovery in 1857. Both Kelly and W. N. McGugin made depositions in behalf of Kelly. The result being that Kelly got his patents.

Kelly later joined forces with Bessemer and it was called the Kelly-Bessemer Converter. Later Kelly sold out to Bessemer and it became the Bessemer converter7.

Although Olive furnace had a capacity for 16 tons of iron a day, it averaged out to 141/2 tons per day. Olive Furnace produced an average of 3915 tons of iron each year.

The hot blast system used 11,370 cords of wood per year which amounted to about 300 to 350 acres of trees per year.

The temperature of the hot blast at each tuyere was 800 degrees and the pressure was 31/4 psi.

The boilers were located on top of the furnace stack where they were heated by the exhaust gases of the stack.

Olive Furnace had two ore burners that were locate next to the hill behind the stock yard. They were 20 feet in diameter and each one could handle 25 tons of ore. Ore was burned to get rid of some of the impurities in the ore, which allowed the smelting process to produce better iron with less effort. These ore burners were located with the help of the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of November 1900 and Mary Anne Reeves.

It took 2.5 tons of raw ore and 45 bushels of charcoal to make one ton of iron.

Olive Furnace turned out 90% of number 1 foundry iron and 10% of number 2 foundry iron in every pour. This information from the Lawrence County Registry of Historic places.

Olive Furnace, as were other furnaces, was charged from the top. The Tuyers openings on the outside shell were louvered shut. Please see the picture of Oak Ridge Furnace. The front opening was louvered for a ways down the opening also8.

The following is a list and the number of laborers needed for the operation of a furnace9.

On Site Laborers
Skilled Unskilled
1 Iron Master
1 blower
1 engineer
2 keepers (discharge iron and slag)
1 store manger
1 Bookkeeper
1 blacksmith
1-2 carpenters
5-9 chargers or fillers (Weigh and charge stack)
2 helpers
3-5 cast house workers (Form molds and break pigs)
4 slag removers, loaders, cleaners
1-2 store clerks
2-4 Carpenter helpers
2-5 ore burners

Off site workers
1-10 colliers for making charcoal
15-20 ore &limestone miners
50 woodcutters
5-10 haulers

It may be noted here that the Charger and Keepers worked so close to the furnace and the fire that after six weeks of work they no longer had a sense of small and their nose and mouth became distorted from the heat and gases of the furnace. The cast house workers and the chargers had a saying that they would not go to Hell because they had already been there!


1. The Hanging Rock Iron Region of Ohio; Eugene Willard and others; Lewis Publishing Company; 1916;pg 272, “The Campbell Furnace Interests”

2. The Manufacture of Iron in All Its Branches; Frederick Overman, second edition; Henry Baird; Philadelphia; 1851 pg. 156.

3. Lawrence County Registration for Historic Sites; Briggs Lawrence County Library, Ironton, Ohio.

4. From Ed Scofield, the great, great, great grandson of W. N. McGngin and Sharon Kouns “ The McGugin Genealogy”.

5. The Morning Irontonian, November 1915; Briggs Lawrence County Library, Ironton, Ohio.

6. Siebert Papers; November 1894; Courtesy of Ann Cramer, U. S. Forestry Service.

7. Encyclopedia Britannica, Micropedia;1974 Edition; Vol. 1; pg1025 “Bessemer Process”. Also Vol. 5; pg 752 “William Kelly”.

8. This information from photos taken of various furnaces.

9. List from a pamphlet published for descendants of Jefferson Furnace at a reunion.

Copyright 2008 by Amos Hawkins All Rights Reserved.