Bellview Furnace, also called the Mammoth Furnace, was
located on Jones Creek, four miles south of Charlotte,
in Dickson County. Shortly after selling the
Cumberland Furnace in 1825, ironmaster Montgomery Bell supervised the construction
of a substantial stone and earthen dam (much of which survives) across the
creek to provide water power to run a new cold-blast furnace.
pig iron produced at Bellview Furnace was floated two miles downstream in
shallow wooden boats to the Valley Forge,
where it was converted into bar iron.
This was the site of the most stunning achievement of Bell’s expert corps of African-American
craftsmen: the massive hand-hewn limestone wall that impounded the water needed
to provide the power for the enterprise.
Almost thirty feet tall at the center and extending for more than four
hundred feet, the finished dam totally enclosed a small valley. After water was diverted from nearby Jones
Creek by a low wooden barrier and channeled into the natural depression, the
pressure produced by the considerable change in elevation of the large volume
of water captured in the reservoir was more than enough to run the four huge
tilting hammers and the rest of the subsidiary equipment operated by the crew
of white and black workers that labored at this forge.
By the mid-1830s the ore and timber for charcoal were so
depleted in the surrounding area that the operation had to be shut down. In 1839, Bell offered to sell or rent the Bellview
facility on favorable terms along with an experienced set of hands if
needed. There were no takers at the
time. Undeterred, he tried to sell the
property for $12,000 five years later, and it remained on the market until his
death in 1855.
most of the buildings on the site were made of wood, Bell built a brick office building, large
stone molding rooms, and a spacious stone warehouse. One of these solid buildings survives today;
however, research has not been able to determine which purpose it served
originally. This building has been used
as a church, first called Bellview and than Rock Church.
A cemetery is located on the hill above
Cumberland Furnace in Dickson County
has the distinction of being the only existing iron village remaining in Tennessee. Here is where a visitor can begin to visualize
the layout of one of the iron plantations that existed throughout Tennessee. Further, its history parallels that of the
entire iron industry in the state from the late 1700s until the mid-twentieth
century. The first furnace was put into
blast in 1797 by James Robertson, early settler and a founder of Nashville. The associated forge was named for Robertson's daughter, Charlotte, who had married ironmaster, Richard C. Napier.
In 1804, Robertson sold the
Cumberland Furnace to Montgomery Bell. During Bell’s ownership of more than twenty years,
at least two furnaces operated here. With
a large work force of slaves and whites, the village became an important
industrial site in the state and in the South. One claim to fame is that some of the
cannonballs that supplied Andrew Jackson’s troops at the battle of New Orleans were
manufactured here. In 1825, Bell sold his property to Anthony Vanleer who dismantled
the old furnace built by Robertson and rebuilt Bell’s second furnace.
With the fall of Fort Donelson
in 1862, Cumberland Furnace closed. It
was one of the few in the state to survive the Civil War. Mary Florence Kirkman, granddaughter and heir
of Anthony Vanleer, married James Pierre Drouillard, a Union officer who had
been stationed in Nashville.
Following the war, they moved to
Cumberland Furnace to oversee the reopening and running of her family’s
business. The Drouillard Mansion
dates from 1868 when it was completed as the showplace of Cumberland Furnace
and as a suitable residence for the owners of the J. P. Drouillard Iron
Throughout the remainder of the
nineteenth century and intermittently until the beginning of World War II,
Cumberland Furnace continued to produce iron through various operations
including the Buffalo Iron Company and Warner Iron Company. The L & N Railroad had a spur to the
village and a depot until 1936. The last iron production occurred just before
World War II began.
Laurel Furnace was built by pioneer ironmaster
Richard C. Napier in 1815. Napier’s facility used two blowing tubes powered by a
waterwheel to provide the air for the blast.
By 1820, the furnace was producing 660 tons of pig iron and hollow ware per
year worth over $32,000. Napier, whose
workforce consisted of seventy men, four women, and three boys, shipped most of
the pig iron to his Turnbull Forge in Cheatham County,
where it was hammered into high-quality wrought iron. The two ventures remained closely allied with
each other during the period of their activities.
publicly guaranteed the quality, availability, and economy of his castings,
machinery, and bar iron to his customers.
He retailed much of the production at his iron store in Union Alley in Nashville, and continued
to operate both furnace and forge until the early 1830s when he leased the
business to the partnership of Epps Jackson and Stephen Eleazer. After Napier died in 1834 and Eleazer in the
following year, Jackson
acquired both facilities and ran them until 1841, when Dr. Elias W. Napier
brought the ironworks back under the control of the family.
years later, Napier’s nephew, William C., acquired both properties from the
deceased doctor’s estate and continued to make iron. He rebuilt Laurel Furnace in 1854 and
converted it to steam power for greater efficiency and production. At that time he boasted that the facility
“probably (had) the best engine and blast in the state.” After producing only 657 tons of metal in 40
weeks during 1855, Napier offered to sell the furnace and 5 to 6,000 acres of
land so that he could concentrate his manufacturing activities at his Carroll
Furnace on Barton’s Creek. Buyer William
H. Crutcher attempted to make a success of the operation, but abandoned the
furnace after a few years. Iron was
never produced there again, although the roughly-hewn limestone stack remained
a landmark in the neighborhood until the middle of the twentieth century. Today, the ruins of Laurel Furnace are located
within Montgomery Bell State Park
near Burns, Tennessee.
Promise Land Community
Shortly after the Civil War, in the hilly landscape two
miles or so north of Charlotte, Tennessee, a group of ex-slaves established the Promise Land
community and it became the earliest African-American settlement in Dickson County.
According to tradition, the name was chosen because the settlers
believed that the Federal government had promised to set aside land for them.
However, the name may also have a Biblical origin.
Many of the people who came there to live had previously
labored at the local ironworks or in the nearby fields, including the families
of Nathan Bowen, Washington Vanleer, and the Nesbitt brothers, John and Arch. Early ironmaster Montgomery Bell had
purchased this tract in 1809 for the benefit of his Cumberland Furnace. It contained the rich Ticer Ore Bank as well
as extensive woodlands that were used for the production of charcoal.
In 1825, Anthony Vanleer bought the furnace from Bell and operated it
until Union forces took control of the area in 1862. After the war was over, Vanleer’s daughter
and her husband reopened the facility and hired many residents of Promise Land as free laborers. These men and women worked as fillers,
keepers, forgemen, blacksmiths, miners, teamsters, colliers, farmers, laborers,
housekeepers, cooks, and laundresses.
As time went on, more black families
bought small farms in the vicinity and the community grew. By 1880 at least 175 people called Promise Land home. Eventually it encompassed almost two square
miles and consisted of some fifty houses, several stores, two churches, and a
school. Religion and education were very
important to African Americans and the two have been intertwined for
generations at Promise
Land. The first schoolhouse burnt down in the late
nineteenth century. The present building
dates from 1899; its kitchen wing was constructed in the 1940s. The community furnished all building materials
At one time there were three churches in Promise Land,
although two congregations shared the same building. Both church buildings were built at the
beginning of the twentieth century.
Lightning destroyed St. John Methodist in 1939 and it was rebuilt in
1942. The other church building was
taken down in the early 1980s.
The community began a slow decline during the 1920s. Both furnace and farm work had become
unattractive to the younger generation and northern cities offered better
educational and occupational opportunities.
Although only St. John Church, the cemetery, and the old schoolhouse are all
that remain of the historic village now, the descendants of the original
landowners of the Promise
Land settlement continue
to keep its history and heritage alive with annual reunions.
1825, Montgomery Bell paid Isaac West, Sr. $10,000 for the Mother Ore Bank in
County. After selling Cumberland Furnace in 1825, the
ironmaster began to establish new ironworks within the county. Bell had come
in 1802 with his personal servant, a black man by the name of James
Worley. For most of Bell’s career, Worley acted as his trusted
executive assistant, handling important business transactions and transporting
large sums of cash over great distances.
As the legendary entrepreneur’s agent, advisor, and confidant, Worley
emerged as one of Tennessee’s
first prominent African Americans.
completed the construction of the last of his stone blast furnaces, the remains
of which still rest against a hillside along Old Furnace Road. At that time, he designated the site as the
“Worley Furnace” to honor James Worley.
steam engine provided the power to run this cold blast furnace which was manned
by a workforce of eighty and produced forty tons of pig iron per week. Much of this output wound up at the Pattison
Forge on the Harpeth River, now in Cheatham County,
where it was converted into bar iron. In
transferred the ownership to his nephew, James L. Bell. The younger Bell employed J. M. Skelton to manage the
operation and rebuilt the furnace in 1854, which increased overall production
somewhat. By 1859, an industry-wide
depression had forced the furnace to go out of blast, and early the following
year J.L. Bell died from an overdose of laudanum. The property was sold by decree of the
Chancery Court in the fall of 1866.
Worley Furnace reopened, it and Cumberland Furnace were the only works that
made charcoal iron in Dickson
County. After operating unsuccessfully under several
owners during a 12 year period, the Warner family leased the facility and tried
to convert it to a coke-fired plant, but the high costs that they incurred
caused them to shut down the business in 1880.
Dickson County Image Gallery