On Sunday evening, March 18, 2018, I presented a PowerPoint talk on the defense of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge during the Civil War to a packed house in the old Mule Stable of the restored Joanna Furnace complex in southern Berks County, Pennsylvania. Before the talk, I had a chance to wander around the grounds and learn more about this old industrial site, which is just off of Route 10 between Morgantown and Reading in a narrow valley along the banks of Hay Creek.
Four entrepreneurs founded Joanna Furnace in heavily wooded Robeson Township in 1791, naming the facility after the wife of Samuel Potts, one of the quartet of investors. The owners over the years included Thomas Bull Smith, an operator in the Underground Railroad who hid fugitive slaves in the nearby woods until it was safe to move them northward to other conductors closer to Reading.
The furnace was a water-powered using a mill race from Hay Creek until the late 1850s when steam power was employed. The furnace stopped operation in 1898 following the death of ironmaster L. Heber Smith, who had built a large mansion on the property for his family. Bethlehem Steel later obtained the property, and in 1975 transferred ownership to the private Hay Creek Valley Historical Association, which maintains and interprets the furnace buildings and grounds.
This wayside shows the grounds and buildings (a few of which, including the Smith mansion, are no longer extant).
This wayside marker is in front of the steps that once led to the Smith Mansion. The grounds around the home are terraced, which formerly were graced by several gardens.
Looking west toward Route 10 from near the mansion site, showing the once-gardened grounds. The furnace is out of view to the right; the old mule stable in to the left center between two large trees.
The Hay Creek Valley Historical Association has erected numerous wayside interpretive markers to help the visitor learn more about the history of iron making at the site. The property is open to the public at no charge, except for special events such as festivals and other activities.
More of the old gardens that once graced the grounds near the mansion house.
This nicely restored stone house was once the company’s offices and store.
If you go: Joanna Furnace is a little over an hour from York, PA. Take the Morgantown exit from I-76, the Pennsylvania Turnpike and follow Route 10 North about three miles. You will pass the furnace complex and a large sign on the right. Make a right turn onto Furnace Road and drive less than a half-mile. The entrance to the complex will be on the right. There is plenty of parking (well marked) by the Mule Stable.
Stay tuned for part 2!