RIW History

RIW Historic Registration - Press Releases



News Release - Richmond Historical Commission
The Birkshire Eagle - Richmond Furnace named to Register of Historic


Richmond Historical Commission
Richmond, Massachusetts  01254
William F. Edwards, Chairman

September 20, 1999


Richmond Furnace District Placed on National Register

RICHMOND, Mass. -- The Richmond Furnace Historical and Archaeological District was accepted for inclusion on the National Regester of Historic Places by the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 30.  The L-shaped, 290-acre district is one of the largest in Massachusetts, according to Massachusetts Historical Commission.

Properties within the district, which encompasses State, Cone Hill and Furnace roads in Richmond, are all privately owned.  Original Richmond Iron Works buildings which still stand include the office (dating from 1862), the iron master's house / boarding house (circa 1832), an 1890 school and several worker dwellings (1870s).  Though in deteriorating condition, the pyramidic stone furnace stack, renovated in 1905 to increase capacity, survives.  The district includes 148 contributing buildings, sites, structures and objects and 36 non-contributing (dating from after the period in which the Richmond Furnace was active) buildings, according to William F. Edwards, chairman of the Richmond Historical Commission.

Mr. Edwards was project leader for the nomination process.  Karl Danneil of Nassau, N.Y., entered survey data into a computer to generate a detailed map of the archeological site.  Mr. Edwards said  more than 50 townspeople, students, professionals and members of the Society for Industrial Archeology Northern and Southern New England Chapters helped with the field work and research necessary to compile the detailed application.

The Massachusetts Historical Commission voted to recommend the property for national status in July.  A district's listing on the National Register is recognition of its historical significance and affords an added level of review and certain protections if there is threat by a project such as highway construction using federal funds.  Designation does not place restrictions on what an owner may do with his or her property.

"A large proportion of the historic resources within the Richmond Furnace Historic District are industrial archaeological resources associated with the extraction of the raw materials required to make cast pig iron," according to the application, which adds, the district "is significant for the degree of integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association that it retains."

Industrial use within the district dates to 1763, according to Mr. Edwards, when saw and grist mills were established along what later became known as Furnace Brook.  The production of pig iron began in 1830 when Gates, Pettee & Company built the charcoal-fired, stone stack blast furnace to smelt iron ore found in abundance in the nearby hillsides.  The district includes both open pit and shaft mine sites.

The Richmond Furnace was one of several dozen within the Salisbury Iron District, which covers northwestern Connecticut, western Massachusetts and central eastern New York, at its peak supported 55 blast furnaces, of which the remains of 11 survive. Richmond's is the only one in Massachusetts still standing. Richmond Iron Works ended operations in 1923, by which time its production methods were severely antiquated.

Iron produced at Richmond from brown hematite ore was particularly hard, according to Mr. Edwards. It was sold as a raw material to other ironworks and foundries, which converted it to finished cast iron products. The furnace, which reorganized as Richmond Iron Works in 1843, was a major source of iron for the production of Rodman guns during the Civil War. Its iron also went into the production of railroad car wheels. Ancillary industries included the mining and processing of limestone, used in the blast process as a flux to remove impurities, and charcoal, produced from woodlands within a 50-mile radius of the furnace for fuel. Richmond Iron Works also owned and operated furnaces in VanDeusenville and Cheshire.

The growth of the iron industry had considerable impact on Richmond's otherwise agricultural economy, according to the application. "Spurred by the growth of the RIW, Richmond's population rose to 1,152 by 1840. The earliest immigrant furnace workers were Welsh, Scotch, and English with experience in mining and smelting iron. After the start of the Irish potato famine in 1844, inexperienced immigrant Irish workers joined the forces at the RIW. Wages at this time stood at $1.00 a day...."

The Furnace works was self-sufficient. It had its own store from the beginning. To house its growing work force, the Iron Works built tenements and single-family dwellings. Workers grew crops and tended their fields using draft animals which also worked in the mines during the week. The Furnace had its own school. There was a post office located at different times in the iron works office and in a residence. This section of town was served by its own passenger and freight railroad depot. It also had its own cemetery (the earliest grave dating from 1779).

Mr. Edwards stressed the Richmond Furnace Historic District is archeological, and privately owned, and should not be dug for artifacts. He explained there are no remains which would be of interest to collectors. Historical objects range from concrete pads and below-ground piping to water-filled pit mines and stone walls - their original use interpreted by trained professionals. Richly colored black, green and purple slag, a byproduct of the iron making process, was years ago removed by another industry Colonial Rock Wool of West Stockbridge which converted it to insulation.


The Birkshire Eagle
Sunday, September 26, 1999

Richmond Furnace named to Register of Historic Places

By Timothy Q. Cebula
Berkshire Eagle Staff

RICHMOND - The National Park Service has named the Richmond Furnace historical and archaeological district to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Furnace is the fourth town property to be named to the National Register, along with the Goodwood house on Summit Road, the Kenmore house on Dublin Road and the Sterner house on Swamp Road. The L-shaped, 290-acre district is one of the largest archaeological districts in the state, according to William Edwards, chairman of the town's Historical Commission.

Properties within the Furnace district, which encompasses
State, Cone, Hill and Furnace roads, are all privately owned. Some of the buildings connected with the original Richmond Iron Works still stand, including the office building, iron master's house and school.

'A little community'

"Everything necessary for iron mining took place on the property," Edwards said. The district had its own post office, railroad station, school and store. "It was a little community all built around the production of pig iron."

As for the furnace itself, Edwards said it is the last standing charcoal-fired iron furnace in the state. "It was also the last to operate in this area," he added, noting that it stopped operation in 1923.

Edwards said more than 50 town residents, students, professionals and archaeological experts helped with the field work and research on the district, which stretched over more than six years.

"This has been a long-term project, and more has been done than was necessary for the National Register," Edwards said. "We wanted to document this site as thoroughly as possible."

Researchers took more than 2,500 photographs of the district, conducted survey work and interviewed older residents to record oral histories.

The Massachusetts Historical Commission voted to recommend the property for national status in July. The National Register recognizes historical significance and permits designees certain protections if proposed developments threaten the property. But the designation does not restrict what property owners may do with their properties.

The Richmond Furnace was one of several dozen furnaces within the Salisbury Iron District, which covers northwestern Connecticut, Western Massachusetts and part of adjacent New York. By the time Richmond Iron Works ended operations in 1923, its production methods were antiquated.

But the furnace had been a major source of iron for the production of Rodman guns during the Civil War, according to Edwards. He stressed that the district is privately owned and should not be dug for artifacts, explaining that there are no remains of interest to collectors.

Photo by Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff

Top Photo Caption - The Richmond Furnace, which stopped operation in 1923, is the last standing charcoal fired iron furnace in the state. It also was the last one in the area to be used.

Photo caption - Richmond Furnace District has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is the interior of the furnace.



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