John Pritiskutch Reproductions

History of Lebanon County - Cornwall, The Hub of the Iron Trade

The following is reproduced from the 1875 Atlas of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania


The cry of the South for years was " Cotton is King. " Things have changed since then, and the whole country, in view of the panic, may well exclaim " Pig Iron is Kinh " and he alone can help us out of our trouble. The extent and variety to which pig iron is applied, have increased with the years. Railways no longer monopolize this trade, but it has its ramifications in every department of industry. Houses, furniture, table and pocket cutlery, machinery and implements of every description are made of pig iron, after being subjected to different processes for the purposes intended. Of all the States of the Union, Pennsylvania stands foremost as a producer of iron, and Cornwall, Lebanon county, may with entire propriety be styled.


for here is found the most remarkable and valuable body of iron ore in the world. It consists of three hills of solid ore, called respectively, the Big Hill, Middle Hill and Grassy Hill, together, better known here and abroad, as the Cornwall Ore Banks. The Big Hill is over four hundred feet high and the base covers more than forty acres. In shape, it is like a cone and around its sloping sides a spiral railway has been constructed ascending to the summit on a grade of 200 feet to the mile. The road-bed is made of ore, which is the only ballast used. The ore is mined in breasts along which the cars are backed and the ore shoveled into them. There are no shafts sunk as in mining coal, but all the work is done in daylight and in the open air. For many years, the several owners of these ore hills, mined just as much as each one needed to supply his furnaces, but with the growth of the trade and the construction of numerous furnaces in all parts of the State, came a demand for this ore, and to facilitate their mining operations, as well as enable each owner to realize his share of the profits, a company was formed, called the Cornwall Ore Bank Company, with J. Taylor Boyd, esq., a practical miner, and an expert in the knowledge of ores and their respective furnace values, as General Superintendent. A commodious two story office, built of Cornwall sand-stone, with a tower surmounted by a cupola, containing a bell to summon the men to and from work, is the headquarters of the General Superintendent, and contains a room especially set apart for the meeting of the members of the Cornwall Ore Bank Company. The ore is a magnetic oxide, containing a great deal of iron pyrites, (fool's gold,) which under atmospheric influences, changes from the sulphuret of iron into a sulphate soluble in water, and is washed away by the rain. The nearer it lies to the surface, the freer it is of sulphur. Iron masters away from Cornwall complain of the difficulty of working this ore, while at Cornwall and at Lebanon it has been successfully used, and none of the furnaces belonging to the Cornwall estate have scaffolded on this account, except Donaghmore. and that was owing more to a defective construction of the furnace more than to the sulphur in the ore. Since Donaghmore was remodelled no trouble is experienced, and the furnace now is good for a steady weekly yield of 150 tons of No. 1 pig metal. The Middle Hill is about two hundred yards from the Big Hill, and has an altitude of 200 feet above the water level, and covers about 35 acres. The ore is the same as that mined at the Big Hill. The Middle Hill shows the most perceptible impression made by years of steady mining, though amid the surrounding mass it almost escapes notice. This hill has been constantly worked for a period reaching back of the American Revolution. In the days of '76 cannon and munitions of war were furnished the Colonists by the proprietors of Cornwall. Specimens of these guns and cannon halls are shown the visitor with a just feeling of pride. The Grassy Hill lies south-west of the Middle Hill, about one hundred miles away. It has been worked for more than twenty years, This hill is about 150 feet high, and covers 30 acres. The ore mined here contains less sulphur than that found in the other two hills, though it is considered necessary to roast it like the rest before using.

Cornwall has long been the seat of iron manufacture. The famous charcoal furnace, still in blast, and the oldest in existence, has supplied the iron trade for years, and established a reputation for Cornwall iron which has grown with the years, until to-day it is regarded as the best brand made by any of the furnaces in the country. This furnace supplied the iron for the cannon and ball made in the days of the Revolution. Mr. J. P Jackson is the present manager. The old anthracite furnaces are equally known to the iron trade, not only from the fact of their producing a superior quality of pig metal, but because under their present management they have continued in blast longer than any other known furnaces, saving necessary stoppages from wear and tear, and two of these have only occurred within a period of more than twenty-five years. A. Wilhelm, Esq., the attorney for R. W. Coleman's heirs, has had the furnaces in immediate charge since 1857. At North Cornwall two furnaces have been built, but are not yet in blast though it is expected they will be during the winter. They were constructed after the latest and most approved designs, and and are superintended by Mr. Henry C. Grittinger. These furnaces are the individual property of Mr. William Coleman Freeman.

The last, largest and unquestionably the most admirably equipped of furnaces, are the Bird Coleman, modeled and constructed by A. Wilhelm, Esq., the general manager of the estate.

At a distance, they present a massive appearance and attract attention at once, because of their singularly beautiful proportions. There is ordinarily nothing to admire about a furnace except perhaps the flow of molten iron at the casting hour; but this structure is a perfect architectural beauty. Nor is the wonder and admiration of the visitor confined to its general appearance, it breaks upon him at every step as he makes a tour of inspection.