The Iron Works and The Mines in Franconia
by Rick Russack
by Rick Russack
There were two separate iron works in
The iron mines that supplied these iron works were in nearby Sugar Hill, which at that time was part of the town of
The stone furnace that remains in Franconia today, (the only surviving iron smelter in the state of
In 1810, the owners of the Lower Works, most of whom were from
The furnace was enclosed within the building with the gambrel roof
In 1823, a published report describes the output of the Upper Works and the Lower Works combined. According to this document, which does not differentiate between the two companies, they made stoves, cooking hollow ware, potash kettles, machinery and bar iron with a market value of over $24,000. The two companies employed 90 men with a payroll of $8,000 annually and they 1,000 tons of ore and 300,000 bushels of charcoal.
In 1825, the New Hampshire Patriot advertised the sale of the Upper Works and included a detailed description of the buildings and equipment. The property included a (water) mill privilege with 240 acres adjoining, a furnace, a forge, blacksmith shop, grist and sawmills, two warehouses, a store, three large barns, six dwelling houses and more. The advertisement contains an extensive list of the finished products on hand: bar iron, castings, ox chains, tire iron, shovels, scythes, stoves, and many more items. The Upper Works burned in 1827. Although some sources indicate that the works were not reopened, it is likely that they were rebuilt. Published sources in 1829, 1832 and 1833 refer either to the Upper Works by name, or state that were two companies operating at the time.
It’s quite apparent that the two companies were large, with a wide variety of products. Most of the production was consumed locally; transportation by wagon for any distance would have been quite expensive. (Railroads did not reach the area until the early 1850s.) In 1832, the Lower Works produced 300 tons of castings and 130 tons of bar iron, valued at $34,000. The same report indicates that the Upper Works produced fifty tons of bar iron, worth $5.500. Both companies were profitable.
The manufacture of iron in the early years of the 19th century required three raw materials: iron ore; limestone, which acted as a flux, and charcoal. Limestone was produced nearby. (Remnants of one lime kiln survive in
In 1859, the present stone furnace was re-built by S. Pettee, Jr. His name and the date are cut into the granite. It appears that the furnace did not operate much longer although there was a later attempt to resurrect it. In 1865, according to the Granite State Monthly, “work at the furnace and mine was suspended”. In 1870, the US Census terms the site “inoperative”. However, in 1881, a new company was incorporated but no information is known about its production, if any. In 1884, the buildings burned and it was stated that they were not in use at the time of the fire. All that survived the fire was the stone furnace, which is still there and, hopefully, will be there for future generations.
It has recently became apparent that the iron works, or at least the mines, were in operation in the early 1880s. Sylvester Marsh, builder of the Cog Railway, was one of the principals involved with the company in its later years.
Quotations from the Littleton Journal follow:
Dec. 23, 1881 "There have been various rumors and newspaper items going the rounds regarding the starting of the Franconia Iron mines. We have seen some of the parties who are interested and they say it is true that Concord capitalists are taking hold of the enterprise and the mine will probably be worked again in the near future".
4/21/1882: extensive article concerning ore from Franconia being sent to Alexandria, Va. The ore was accompanied by a committee representing the Franconia Iron Company "for the purpose of witnessing a test reduction of Franconia ore by the Vapor-Fuel Process" The ore was taken from a dump at the mine and the company in Va was known as the Potomac Mfg. Co. and they converted the ore into ingots. The committee apparently was impressed and recommended licensing the technology for use in Franconia for making steel. Profits were estimated at over $100,000 if this technology was adopted. The committee was comprised of Sylvester Marsh, C.M. Ransom and T.H. Ford "The ingots of steel were taken by Messer's Marsh and Ford to Concord where they were made into chisels, etc, and are now on exhibition".
6/31/1882: In the Sugar Hill section: ""Some twenty men are at present employed in the ore mines and more wanted, we understand they intend to push operations as fast as possible and will soon open up the main shaft."
7/14/1882: "The Iron Miners are getting to be quite an attraction. The steam pumping machinery is at work and the car for lifting ore has arrived."
9/15/1882: "The mines are now well opened and the ore is coming to the surface by the steampower which has been put in for that purpose. We learn that 100 tons have been sold to go to Alexandria, Va.. The present force in the mine is eight men. There are others engaged in outside work, taking down buildings at Franconia and building a boarding house at the mines, etc."
7/23/1883: "Isaac Howland of Sugar Hill, recently found a mine of iron on the surface of Peter Goddard's farm. Some of the Franconia Iron Co. along with others made a satisfactory investigation last week. E.B. Parker says "It's the richest looking ore he (sic) ever saw". The company bonded the whole farm for $1,600. or the minerals for $300. Mr. Howland has engaged to commence work with a force of men on the mines immediately after haying".
Map of the mines on Ore Hill, drawn by Nancy Aldrich
The Franconia Heritage Society has created an informative interpretative center opposite the furnace. Their museum in
Much of the information used above has been taken from an unpublished 13 page report by James Garvin, “Chronology of the Development of the New Hampshire Iron Factory Company from 1805 to 1884” Click here to read the full report.
Also: “A Report on the Affairs of the New Hampshire Iron Factory Co and the
Click here for photos of the Iron Works
Watch a 15 minute video interview of Roger Aldrich
talking about the Iron Works
Watch a 22 minute video interview of Roger Aldrich
talking about the iron mines in Sugar Hill.