quantities of high quality iron ore were found on both sides of the
The first iron furnace (which no longer exists) was built by Samuel Vanleer in 1838 on the west bank of the river. The son of Vanleer’s sister Hettie, Felix Lanier, inherited a half interest in the operation and took on a partner, Alexander Fall. In 1850, these two young men oversaw a thriving business that employed 90 people, most of them slaves, which produced over 2,000 tons of pig iron and realized a profit of $15,000. Three year later, Lanier sold 6,000 acres of land to the partnership of William Ewing, David Dick, and Robert McClure. The furnace itself and the surrounding buildings were not part of the transaction.
Ewing, Dick, and Co. built a steam powered hot blast
furnace on a new site three miles from the river, and by the end of 1854 the
operation had made over 2,100 tons of metal.
Unlike many Western Highland Rim ironworks, Brownsport escaped
destruction during the Civil War.
Lieutenant-Commander Leroy Fitch listed the presence of the furnace on a
U.S. Navy reconnaissance report in March 1863.
He identified the facility as a foundry and noted that the owners were
known to be Unionists. After the war,
Information from the 1870 census schedule of manufactures
identifies the partnership of Walker and Young as running the only furnace in
The partnership rebuilt the stack to a height of 40 feet and installed the most modern equipment in order to process the brown hematite ore found within 400 yards of the furnace. 200 people labored at the facility for several years but mismanagement took its toll. All work was suspended by 1878 and the plant never reopened.
Over the years, the machinery,
bricks, and lumber were sold and reused elsewhere.
Decatur Furnace is located at
Bob's Landing in the southeastern section of
This steam-powered hot blast facility
was established on the site of an earlier iron manufacturing venture (then known
as the West Point Furnace) in the early 1850s by the firm of Watkins, Golladay
& Co. Several investors came and
went and by 1857 the enterprise was operating under the style of Golladay,
Cheatham & Co. In the years before
the Civil War, George W. Carter managed these ironworks utilizing a number of
enslaved laborers hired by the year from local slaveholders. On at least one occasion the company’s owners
advertised for the return of a runaway hand in the
almost ten feet across inside and forty feet tall when constructed, the furnace
boasted one of the larger stacks in the iron-producing region of the Western
Highland Rim. The brown hematite ore
smelted there was mined across the river in
In the nineteenth century the facility was located on a high bluff above the Tennessee River, but now the remains of the limestone stack are located only about 50 yards from the impounded waters of Kentucky Lake. Like many of the iron furnace villages, bricks and building materials were salvaged by people in the area for other uses.
Decatur County Image Gallery