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Full text of "The Muirkirk Iron Works"

THE MTJIRKIRK IRON WORKS. 

INTROOUCTI ' 
This recort or. the Muirkirk Iron Works if? of 
imnortanee "both because of its location in the State of 
Maryland and tae fact that it is a typical example of an 
industry that hae almost massed into history. Its loca- 
tion in the State of Maryland at once set 3 it apart in 
the iron- producing field as one of the first in the qual- 
ity of its product. The furnace shut do-ra in IS 30, there- 
by closing the history of charcoal iron-making in the State 
of Maryland, It was the last of its kind in the State, 
but it was iuolicatei in every section of the United States 
at about the time of the Civil War. 

These hillside furnaces rendered valuable aid to 
i Colonies' during the "evolutionary l Var. The cannon, 
an! the shot to fire in the cannon, were cast of charcoal 
iron. Later nails and clows were male. "Soma of the 
veterans of the cupola will recall the time when a sugges- 
tion to use aught but cold-blast charcoal metal for car 
wheels was considered approached to criminal intent, as 
human life might be at stake. " But due to cheaper trans- 
portation and manufacture of iron by the use of coke instead 



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of charcoal, these little centers of iniuatry have shut 
down one by one until now only a few remain. 

This furnace, then, is worthy of note, although 
not in operation at ©resent. So in the following cages 
I have given a few facta concerning the history, location, 
process of converting orea to pig iron, ani the troiuct of 
the Muirkirk Iron fork*, 

HISTORY. 
Paaaano's "History of Maryland" contains the 
following caaaage: "The iron industry in Prince George's 
(County) dates back over a century. The Snowdens, among 
the original 33ttlers of the county, established furnaces 
at various points in southern Maryland. The Patuxer.t 
Furnace and Forge waa long a notable industry. The only 
iron works now in o Deration in the county, or in rural 
Maryland, is the Muirkirk Furnace on the Baltimore and 
Ohio Railroad, at Muirkirk. It waa erected in 184? by 
Andrew and Flias Fllicott and moislsi after a furnace at 
Muirkirk, Scotland. " The shove article was taken from 
the hiatory cocy righted in 1901. Going back to a time 
before 184? *« fini in the "Maryland Geological Survey", 
on The Physical Features of Prince George's County, that 
Richard Snowdsn and George Yates bought for 11,000 nounl3 



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of tobacoo a tract of land called tlis Iron Mine on 
January 11, 1669. In 1686 Richard Snowien patented 
from the Proprietary of Maryland a tract of land which 
he called "Robin Hood's Forest" and which contained about 
10,500 aores. In 1683 Richard Snowden bought from Wil- 
liam Parker a tract of land of 800 acres called "Good Will". 
In 1847 th# Muirkirk Furnace was built near the old "Iron 
Mine". This furnace was bought from the Ellicotts in 
1860 by W. E. Coffin of Massachusetts. On the death of 
f. E. Coffin his son Charles E. Coffin assumed charge of 
the furnace. The last blast of the oil Muirkirk Furnace 
was superintended by Ellery F^ Coffin, who lives at Eelts- 
ville, Maryland, and who survived his father Charles E. 
Coffin. The site of the furnace is now being used as a 
paint factory. 

It is interesting here to note that in "The 
Iron and Steel Works of the Unite! States, " published 
in 1833, by the American Iron and Steel Association, ap- 
pears the following article, under Charcoal Blast Furnaces: 

"Muirkirk Furnace; Charles E. Coffin, Muirkirk, 
Prince George's County. One stack, 38 x 8.5, built in 
1847, burnt and rebuilt in 1388. Open-top; ore, carbonate, 
mined in the neighborhood, roastei and crushed before using, 
pig iron used for car wheels,, guns, flange iron, and shot 



-4- 

and shell, annual capacity 7,000 tons net. Brand, 
"Muirkirk". Selling agents, Robinson and Orr, Pitts- 
burgh, Arthur W. Howe, Philadelphia, ani C. L. Pierson 
& Co. , Boston. " 

The Maryland Geological Survey of Prince George's 
County, published in 1911, contains the following: 

"The Muirkirk Furnace has besn in almost con- 
tinuous use since 1847, and during that oeriod has pro- 
duced a great quantity of high grade pig iron. After 
having been closed for three years it was opened again 
in May 1309 and i3 producing about 400 tons of pig iron 
per month from about 1300 tons of ore. n 

In the above accounts it will be noticed that 
the Muirkirk Iron Works has been designated as first the 
Iron Mine, second, Muirkirk Furnace, and now the Muirkirk 
Iron Works. 

LOCATION. 

The Muirkirk Iron Works, formerly known as the 
Muirkirk Furnace, is located in the northern part of Prince 
George's County, Maryland. It is between Washington and 
Baltimore, at a distance of about fifteen miles from the 
former, on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and the new Wash- 
ington and Baltimore Boulevard, which run parallel to each 
other within a hundred yards to the west of the old furnace. 



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About two mil 9 8 to the east is the oil Baltimore and 
Washington Turnpike. Numerous ponds ani lakes within 
a radius of five miles of the furnace indicate the exten- 
sive mine operations of the industry. 

The rough sketch on the opposite page shows the 
relative location of the component parts of the Muirkirk 
Furnace, which include the furnace, the charcoal kilns, 
moulding room, crusher, blower, roasting ovens and office. 
The picturesque kiln3 and part of the furnace can be seen 

from the road and the railroad. The houses of the workmen 

v 
which were furnished by the operators can also be seen to 

the right of the works. 

PROQUSS. 

Briefly, the process used at the Muirkirk Furnace 
consist 3 i of mining the iron ore, cutting wood and making 
charcoal, roasting the ore, crushing the ore, smelting the 
ore, and moulding the nigs. 

The iron ores in the vicinity of Muirkirk are very 
lean. They are primarily iron carbonates, though many of 
them have been altered to limonite or hematite near the sur- 
face. "The Anne Arundel formation in Maryland has long 
been known as the important iron-bearing member of the Poto- 
mac group, and many mines have been worked in this formation 



-S- 

in Prince George's, Anne Arundel and Baltimore Count! 33. 
In Colonial times these mines were of the greatest import- 
ance, ana many of the cannon U3ei in the Revolution were 
made from Potomac iron ores. In recent years, however, 
these mines have decreased in importance, as most of them 
have he en unable to compete with the Lake Superior ores, 
and at the present time the only furnace using the ores 
is located at Muirkirk in the northern part of Prince 
George's County. The numerous immense pits now filled 
with water that can he seen in this region furnish evidence 
of the large quantity of ore that has been removed, though 
the present operations are rather small. " (Md. Geo. Surv. 
Pr. Geo. Co. 1911.) A3 is the case with iron mining all 
over the United States, the mines were orien surface. After 
stripping off the surface soil the ore was loaded on horse- 
drawn wagons by negro labor. It was then carted to the 
roasting ovens. Owners of the land were paid a royalty 
for each ton of ore removed. 

CHARCOAL. 
Sines charcoal was one cf the essential constitu- 
ents in the making of the charcoal iron, it must be had in 
large auantities. Wood was cut in the nearby forests ani 
piled in the brick kilns which held about 45 cor is. A fire 



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was kindled under the pile and after burning a while the 
open top of the kiln wag covered. Thus the volatile 
matter in the unhurnt wood was driven off at the expense 
of the burning wool. The charcoal was then removed and 
was ready for use in the roasting ovens and the furnace. 
This method of obtaining the charcoal was very wasteful 
and expensive. Later it was found to be much cheaper 
to buy the charcoal than to make it near the furnace. 

Some of the charcoal kilns or ovens still remain 
and are in a good state of preservation. They are of a 
good quality brick. The shape is that of a half snhere 
having a circumference at the ba3e of 100 feet. The floors 
are of cobblestone. Two openings are oroviiei, one in 
the top and one near the base. The accompanying photograph 
gives a good idea of the beehive appearance of these charcoal 
ovens. 

ROASTING. 

Originally the furnace had a number of roaeting 
ovens, but they are in ruins now. There was a bank 
of four of them placed si Is by side. The ruins indicate 
that the walla were two feet thick and the dimensions of 
the base of each was about ten feet by ten feet. 

The process of preparing the ore and making pig 



. 






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iron at Muirkirk wag similar to the method used in Eng- 




land in 1400. In a little book called "Charcoal Iron" 




by Dr. Richard Moldenke, is the following: "The early 




years of 1400 found pig iron male in England, ^arsons 



(1680) describes the roasting of the ore (calcining) by 
mixing it with coal and filling up kilns similar to those 
for burning lime, thus getting the ore ready for the furn- 
ace. After lighting \ap at the bottom and burning away 
the ccal mixed with the ore, the latter was removed and 
the kiln recb.ar.gei. The very process can be observed 
today at Muirkirk, Maryland (l930), whsre the siierites 
(spathic ores) of that region are mixed with coke breeze 
and calcined. The roasted ore then goes to the blast 
furnace and makes an excellent charcoal iron. " After 
leaving the roasting oven the ore was run through the 
crusher, coming from the crusher about the size of fine 
gravel. The ore was then ready to be mixed with the 
charcoal and put in the smelting furnace. 

SMELTING. 

The Muirkirk Furnace was 33 feet high and 8.5 
at the base. It had a capacity of 7 tons. The main 
part of it is of firs-brick and is still standing. 

Alternate laysrs of charcoal, roasted ore and 



-s- 

limestone were placed in the furnace until it was charge!. 
The charge was lighted and a cold blast used. The furnace 
was icevt running day and night until the materials at hand 
were exhausted. Every six hours the slag was drawn off. 
About ten inches of sand was placed on the moulding room 
floor. Channels were cut in the sand so that the melted 
metal would flow to the long rectangular molds in the sand. 
The channels are called sows and the rectangular bars of 
iron, after the metal has cooled, are called pigs. The 
pigs were about four feet long and were broken in half for 
3hirunsnt. 

The 3 lag ani refuse from the furnace wa3 used 
for road material, and Lb proved the roads greatly in that 
section of the county. 

PRODUCT . 
The Muirkirk Furnace advertised its "Muirkirk 
Charcoal Pig Iron" as the strongest oig iron in the United 
States. It was used for many years by the United States 

Government Arsenals and Navy Yards for cannon, mortars, 
gun carriages, gun iron castings and other our coses. They 
claimed it was also in demand for car wheels, plowshares, 
cylinders, locomotive castings, chilled rolls, etc. Muir- 
kirk iron was graded from 1 to 6. No. 1 had a tensile 



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strength (nig) of from 30,000 to 33,000 pounds per square 
inch. No. 6 was white iron. No. 4-1/4 was the grade 

which they claimed to be the strongest iron in the United 
States. They say, "Muirkirk No. 4-1/4: Close grey grain, 
chills against chill plate in pig bed from 1/8 to 1/4 inch, 
tensile strength of pig from 38,000 to 41,000 pounds per 
square inch, an I specially selected iron has tested as high 
as 53,000 pounds per square inch." The last blast of Muir- 
kirk pig iron was bought by the Cambria Steel Company. 

John Thomas, superintsndent of the Thomas Iron 
Company, Hokendauaua, Pennsylvania, November 16, 1883, 
submitted the following report: 

"Charles E. Coffin, Esa. , In the test we made 
we cut the piece of pig in four parts in a shaping machine; 
we turned two of them to exactly S/16 inch at the breaking 
point, and got the following results: 

" 1st: 50,730 oounds per square inch. 

" 3nd: 53,160 pounds per square inch. 

"I really don't know whether to believe it or not 

as the tensile strength is so extraordinary, but nevertheless, 
these are the results obtained by the machine.'' 

In ledger No. 40368. 16 of the itfuirkirk Furnace 
appears the following item: "Iron sold and delivered 



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July Slat to January 31st, 1887, 591 tons, average price 
$26.93, net proceeds $15,913.51." 

CONCLUSION. 

The Muirkirk Furnace ha3 passed into history. 
No more will the moulding room floor be filled with live 
srarkling moving heat ag the melted iron flowed from the 
furnace through the sows to the pigs. The furnace will 
probably never warm to the heat of another blast. It is 
empty and cold. 

Soon only the name of a once thriving plant will 
remain. "The foundry world has progressed in the mean- 
while and a relentless deetiny has closed down most of 
the furnaces which followed the pioneers of our rapidly 
developing country and serve! their needs so faithfully. " 

It was a typical hillside furnace, dear to the 
heart of that rapidly passing group of miners who worked 
their own furnaces. Scattered about are charcoal kilns 
and negro shanties. The place had a generally run-down 
appearance. The four roasting ovens are in ruins. Much 
red clay dust blows about. This red clay is used in the 
manufacture of paint, for which the plant is now being used. 
(January 1935) The old family residence of the Coffins 
still stands proudly near the once busy furnace. But its 



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shame is partly hidisn by the merciful trees, which sway 
mournfully in the breeze. 

The mighty "blast furnaces of today, using coal 
coke, a hot blast, and operating in multiple, near heavy 
veins of rich ores, have left the wasteful, forest-consuming, 
charcoal furnaces far behind as a profit-making industry. 
But the charcoal furnace was not to be beat in the quality 
of its product. It is therefore of more than sentimental 
value to the foundryman and the industry. Maryland may 
well be proud not of the quantity of its iron production 
but of the quality of the product of the blast furnaces 
of which Muirkirk Furnace was a fins example. 



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BIBLIOGRAPHT. 

Magruder Passanc History of Maryland. 

Dr. Richard Moldenke .Charcoal Iron. 

American Iron & Steel 

Association The Iron and Steel Works* 

of the United States. 

Maryland Geological Survey Prince George's County, 1911. 

Ellery F. Coffin Present owner of furnace. 

John Brewer Former workman at furnace. 

S. R. Church Analysis of Pig Iron. 

Charles E. Coffin Muirkirk Furnace. 

John Thomas Report on ten3ile strength. 

Muirkirk Furnace Ledger No . 40368 . 16 . 



?L*TE I. 



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Oli. charcoal kn na , 



PLATE II. 




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Hsoent photograph of Ironworks. 



PLATE III, 




Photograph of LHgT£0.t.^!LJll!lg.l2 _ln 1904 
by Charles S. Coffin. 



PLATE IV. 




View of Ironworks from Charcoal Kilns, 



(1004) 



b l*t*: V. 




W. E. Coffin. 



PLAT? VI. 




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Charles E. Coffin. 



PLATE VII 



PLATE VIII. 




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Old Furnace 




Roast ins ^ ena._