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Speaker gives historic presentation

| Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012

Jim Whetsel, director of the Bullskin Township Historical Society, explained the workings of a pig iron furnace and how the group restored the Mt. Vernon Iron Furnace to members of the Chestnut Ridge Historical Society on Tuesday night.

The furnace is located on the BTHS's property.

Introducing Whetsel, Eileen Rose of the Chestnut Ridge society explained that the Bullskin group's furnace was one that had been intriguing to them for some time.

"We were investigating some of the furnaces in the area and the one that kept popping up over and over again was the Mt. Vernon furnace," Rose said, adding that the restoration for one of the historic furnaces could be intensive and expensive. "Our sister historical society down in Bullskin has done it and done it very, very well."

Whetsel told the history of the furnaces and how they became a needed staple in the area for the production of iron.

"This side of the Allegheny was a totally different world," Whetsel said of the area in the 1700s. "There was no way to get in. Anything that was heavy had to be brought in over the mountains, so it became very advantageous to make anything that was heavy.'

The Mt. Vernon furnace was active from 1798 to 1823, when it was shut down. During its run, it was very active in the production of pig iron, Whetsel said. "It was in production for 270 days a year. This area had exactly what was needed and that was large quantities of limestone and wood."

Whetsel said that while in production, the furnace would burn 1 to 1 1/2 acres of wood a day.

"There wasn't a tree in the area," he added.

After the furnace was shut down, it stood idle until it was resurrected by the Bullskin society in 2004.

The group was given an estimate of $150,000 for repairs and restoration, but with local labor and society members, they were able to bring the historic treasure back to life for much less.

"We used a local stone cutter and four of our members put it together for $7,000," Whetsel said. "It's amazing what you can do with local help."

Whetsel noted that the group was very fortunate to receive the furnace in "fairly decent shape for its age." He added that the furnace was donated by the Eutsey family.

Rose announced that a photograph, which was part of Chestnut Ridge's collection, was actually that of the Mt. Vernon Iron Furnace, and had not been identified until last night.

"That's one mystery that has been cleared up," Rose said.

Whetsel identified the photograph. He also invited everyone to the site to see firsthand the hard work and dedication his group spent on preserving their special part of history.

"Their furnace stands as a beacon of what ordinary people can do when they put their minds to it, and Bullskin has done it," Rose said.

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