Stewart County


Bear Spring Furnace

            The Bear Spring Furnace and Forge was put into blast in 1832 by Woods, Yeatman & Co.  Located near large deposits of ore, the Bear Spring Furnace became one of the most important charcoal iron producers in Stewart County.The manufacturing facility here was an integral part of the owners’ sprawling Cumberland Iron Works operation and provided pig iron for the rolling mill that was located on the west bank of the Cumberland River, six miles from Dover. 

            After the death of one of the principals, Thomas Yeatman, in 1834, the company reorganized and John and Samuel Stacker became partners in the firm.  The following year, Woods, Stacker, & Co. held over 12,000 acres of land and owned over 100 slave workers.  In 1842, the company’s engineers fitted the furnace with an innovative device that utilized the waste heat in order to generate considerably more blast.  This improvement provided enough additional power to drive another run-out fire and also to run the associated grist mill.

            In the years following the death of the other founding partner, Joseph Woods in 1847, several new investors bought into the thriving company.  In 1850, the 110 person workforce at the furnace produced over 2000 tons of metal.  Four years later the machinery was removed and installed at the newly-improved Dover Furnace at Carlisle.  The furnace then stood as an abandoned ruin for almost 20 years.

After the Civil War, the furnace was rebuilt and was operated for a time by Woods, Yeatman & Company, but financial difficulties soon overtook them. Successively owned by various companies, the enterprise was strapped by financial problems in the postwar years.  In 1928, the furnace closed.  The limestone stack and a bridge support pillar are all that remain of what was once a busy and integral part of an antebellum industrial complex.

 

Bellwood Furnace

Bellwood Furnace was an important part of the Cumberland Iron Works, once considered to be the best charcoal iron property in the United States in the early decades of the 1800s.  The company owned more than 60,000 acres on both sides of the Cumberland River, as well as several furnaces, forges, and a rolling mill.  Bellwood Furnace, located in Stewart County, obtained its ore from two high ridges lying between Cross and Cub Creeks.  This high-grade raw material consisted of almost 60% of metallic iron.  In addition, large quantities of timber, limestone, clay, and water were close by.

            Built around 1840, Bellwood and its sister furnaces at Carlisle and Bear Spring primarily provided pig iron for Cumberland Iron Works’ rolling mill, located right on the river.  They also produced castings for domestic purposes, such as sugar kettles.  In 1850, the steam-powered facility (which included a forge) employed over 120 workers and produced 1,200 tons of pig metal and 130 tons of iron blooms.  Two years later, 130 furnace hands increased the output to 1700 tons, while the 85 men at the forge turned out 1500 tons of blooms.  After discontinuing operations at the forge, the company ran the furnace at a capacity of approximately 2,000 tons per year.

            Cumberland Iron Works was a vertically integrated business which controlled all aspects of iron production from mining to the finished products.  One of the company’s main stakeholders was John Bell, a U.S. senator and presidential candidate in 1860, from whom Bellwood takes its name.  Bell had married Jane Irwin Yeatman, the widow of one of the company’s original owners, and the couple lived in Nashville much of the time to attend to his political career.  

Immediately following the surrender of Fort Donelson to forces under Brigadier General Ulysses S. Grant in February 1862, Federal gunboats commanded by Flag-Officer Andrew H. Foote shelled and destroyed the facilities of the Cumberland Iron Works, including Bellwood Furnace.  Although the owners had obtained an order of protection for the property from Major General Henry W. Halleck in St. Louis, they were unable to communicate this information to Foote in time to prevent the devastation.  Grant himself denied ordering the mill burned. 

Although the rolling mill was totally wiped out and the remaining iron equipment sold as scrap to a firm in Cincinnati, the forge, furnace, and sawmill were quickly rebuilt and put back into production before the end of the Civil War.  In 1865, after years of refuge in Alabama and Georgia, John Bell returned to his residence situated behind Bellwood Furnace in order to supervise the ironworks during the post-war years.  He died there four years later.  His large frame house and most of the limestone stack of the furnace still stand today.

 

Great Western Furnace

            In the early 1850s, both the Great Western and the Iron Mountain furnaces in Stewart County were built by Brien, Newell, and Co.  The owners entered into the charcoal iron business at its antebellum peak, and the precipitous decline of the industry’s fortunes caused both operations to fail within a few years.  In October 1854, the company dissolved and the two Brien brothers took control of the Iron Mountain property, while W. E. Newell and J.H. Pritchett assumed the management of the other facility.

The pyramidal limestone stack of the Great Western Furnace was ten feet wide inside and forty feet high.  Miners obtained the brown limonite ore locally from shallow pits dug into the banks on the hills that surrounded the small village of Model.  A steam engine provided the necessary power to smelt the iron using the cold blast method.  Contemporary data indicate that in 1855 the furnace produced 1,350 tons of pig metal.  

Due to increasing financial difficulties, the owners tried to market the property after a year or so of operation.  In addition to the physical plant, they offered to sell the equipment, work stock, and 80 experienced black furnace hands.  After they failed to find a buyer for the facility, an agent of the Planters bank, John M. Dye, held a foreclosure sale at the site in 1857, but still found no takers.  Two years later, the sale of the furnace and 12,000 acres of land was announced, and again no serious bidders stepped forward.

During the Civil War, the roads around the Great Western Furnace saw considerable traffic by men from both armies, and skirmishes between the two hostile forces occurred often.  One of these actions happened on 20 August 1864, when a squad of men from Company B, Eighty-Third Illinois Volunteer Infantry attempted to capture a half dozen Confederates reported to be in the neighborhood of the furnace.  Their effort proved to be unsuccessful, and on their return to camp the Federals encountered over 100 men from Colonel Thomas G. Woodward’s command.  After a brief firefight, Union Captain William W. Turnbull and seven of his men were killed and two captured; only two of his soldiers returned to Fort Donelson safely.  

After the Civil War, the question of the ownership of the furnace was still unresolved.  The assessor of Stewart County offered the remaining structures and 1,200 acres of land to anyone who would pay the taxes owed.  The furnace would never operate again.

The remains of the Great Western Furnace are now located in the Land Between the Lakes.  As a designated national recreation area under the management of the USDA Forest Service, LBL is maintained for the public's enjoyment and safety.  The 150-year-old limestone furnace stack can be viewed when traveling along the Trace within LBL.

Saline Furnace

Saline Furnace was built on Saline Creek about one mile from the Cumberland River by Lewis, Irwin & Company in 1853. The cold blast charcoal furnace was of average size, nine feet across at the bosh and thirty-six feet tall. As an integral part of the Cumberland Iron Works, the operators expected the steam-powered facility to produce pig iron for the rolling mill. After making more than 1,200 tons of metal in 1854, the nearby ore banks quickly became exhausted and were unable to supply enough of the raw iron for the furnace to remain in blast.

In March of 1860, the company offered Saline Furnace and 7,000 acres of land for sale. Included in the deal were seven different small farms, complete with springs and orchards. In addition to the main furnace building were numerous others used for iron manufacturing, such as a 55’ by 100’ moulding room, a 32’ by 100’ storage building and another 40’ by 110’ structure, as well as the ironmaster’s residence, slave houses, corncribs, stables, smokehouse, and company offices. 500 acres of the plantation’s land had been cleared and was open for either grazing or raising field crops like wheat or tobacco.

Although the company could not sell the property, it maintained ownership throughout the Civil War. The valuable land contained undetermined quantities of various other minerals, such as coal, lead and zinc, but Saline Furnace was never lit again. The hewn rocks that form the base of the stack are all that remain today.

 

List of Slaves at Cumberland Iron Works, 1 October 1859


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