Wayne County

Wayne Furnace

The first ironworks on Forty-Eight Creek in central Wayne County was known as the Mount Jasper Furnace.  Consisting of a blast furnace and forge, it was built in 1835 by the partnership of ironmaster Rogal B. Ferguson and Jasper R. Sutton.  Ferguson’s son, Richard, joined the firm a few years later, but shortly thereafter Sutton sold his interest to two investors from Columbia, Roger B. Mayes and David Looney.  The elder Ferguson previously had established iron operations in Humphreys and Hardin counties and once again began producing pig iron and castings.  However, he died suddenly in the autumn of 1838 and his two associates were unable to continue the business without him.  They sold their share to the Planters Bank in 1840, which in turn confirmed its title to the land by obtaining grants from the State of Tennessee.

            John W. Walker purchased the facilities from the bank for $10,300 in 1846 and he and his brother George began operations there under the style of “Walkers Iron Works.”  Evidently it was a well-capitalized enterprise because the company immediately sought to hire out 50 enslaved hands at top wages, paid in advance.  In 1850 the Walkers’ steam-powered Forty-Eight Furnace employed 92 people and produced almost two thousand tons of pig metal.  The associated Harrison Forge had 9 employees and manufactured 1250 tons of bar iron that year.  By 1854 Walker had added another furnace and was making between 90 and 100 tons of iron per week.  He then decided to move to Kentucky and sold the whole operation, including almost 18,000 acres of land, to his manager, Thomas G. Pointer, and his brothers Samuel and William, for $60,000.

            The Pointer brothers used a pair of 27-foot-tall brick furnace stacks alternately to produce their iron.  Their 71-person workforce produced 1,700 tons of metal that they shipped to a rolling mill in Ohio for the manufacture of boiler plate.  In the autumn of 1861 they sold a quantity of pig iron to the Tredegar Iron Works for use in Confederate armament manufacture.  However, high freight charges and uncertain delivery schedules, as well as the increased prospect of revival in the Virginia iron industry put an end to any additional contracts. 

The Civil War came to the ironworks on the last day of March 1862 when a couple of Federal couriers commandeered “two good horses” from the Pointers’ barn in order to continue their ride to Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters in Savannah.  Two days later, thousands of troops from Brigadier General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of the Ohio stopped near the furnace on their way to Pittsburg Landing.  Other Union detachments also camped near the facility at various times as the conflict continued.  In November 1864, Confederate Major General Benjamin F. Cheatham’s corps rested at the furnace overnight on their march north that would end in catastrophe at Nashville the following month. 

In September 1865 the Pointers sold the facility to the Gaylord Rolling Mill Company for $40,000.  G.W. Boyd managed the operation for the company under the name of Wayne Furnace.  He installed a Davis-type hot blast system and finally rebuilt the stack which increased the output to 20 tons per day.  The furnace remained in production until the financial panic of 1873 forced a suspension of the operations there.  The 22 mile distance to the nearest shipping point on the Tennessee River proved to be too great of an obstacle to overcome and Wayne Furnace never went back into blast.

In the spring of 2001, 2002, and 2004 cultural resource management personnel conducted archival and archaeological assessments of the Wayne Furnace Site in preparation for the widening of State Route 15 (US Hwy. 64).  In addition to finding a significant number of industrial artifacts, the archaeologists uncovered the limestone remains of the early charging platform and furnace base, as well as the brick bases of the later two stacks.  The immense amount of historic material that was recovered is still being evaluated, and promises to significantly increase our understanding of the nineteenth century charcoal iron industry. 

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