Illinois Iron Furnace

swimming at iron furnace

Iron Furnace Fun

Enjoy a picnic lunch under the wooden pavilion, play in the brook, or peak into historical American industry with a visit to Illinois Iron Furnace Historical Site, the last iron furnace structure in existence in the state of Illinois!

Hiking and Swimming

A refreshing dip in the stream located directly across the gravel road from the iron furnace is a perfect addition to afternoon fun for the whole family! Swing from the rope swing into moderately deep water or wade in the shallows with younger children! Find stones of all shapes and sizes on the rocky creek bed.

For an easy walk, hike the creek and observe the woodland wildlife! Then, dry off at the picnic pavilion, which is wonderfully suited for relaxation in the shade, and enjoy lunch while taking in a piece of the historic Southern Illinois. The large grassy field between the pavilion and the iron furnace provides an opportune place for gatherings or simply to enjoy the outdoors in an open area with a rich past.

History of Iron Manufacturing

Originally built in 1837, this thirty two foot tall structure was constructed on a limestone foundation and erected with limestone blocks quarried locally from the town of Cave-In-Rock. All of the limestone was dry laid in order to allow for expansion when the furnace was heated to nearly 3,000° F (1,600° C). In 1856, the furnace was rebuilt and enlarged. Though during modern reconstruction the core of the furnace was filled with concrete, the hearth and interior walls were originally made of sandstone then lined with firebrick from Pennsylvania.

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The iron furnace required two shifts of forty workmen to keep the furnace in full blast. Using the charcoal blast method of production, the furnace was known to consume two hundred bushels (almost 12,000 cubic yards) of hardwood charcoal to produce a single ton of iron and was capable of producing nine tons of iron every twenty four hours. This particular furnace was the state’s only completely native iron industry

The iron castings, “pigs,” were transported along the Ohio River then distributed to manufacturers to produce goods and weapons needed during the Civil War. Though the furnace was used intermittently after 1861, operation of the furnace officially ended in 1887. Less than fifty years later, the furnace was partially destroyed to provide embankments for the Hog Thief Creek Bridge and was later reconstructed in 1967 by the US Forest Service’s Golconda Job Corps Center.

Iron Furnace Archaeological Site

In early 2012, an archaeology project headed by Mary McCorvie, Heather Carey, and Eraina Nossa in conjunction with 23 volunteers uncovered a cemetery believed to be used by the village associated with the 175-year-old iron furnace. The team also found remains of a log cabin, iron mines, and a mid-nineteenth century home complete with a hand dug cistern. Visit the USDA blog to learn more about these historic discoveries!

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How to get to Iron Furnace

To enjoy this piece of American history, take IL-146 to Iron Furnace Road (Co Rd 12). In 3.8 miles, turn left. Iron Furnace will be 282 feet ahead on the right. Parking is just off the gravel road.

Iron Furnace Illinois Map Brochure

Things To Do Near Iron Furnace

Travel a little further south to Elizabethtown, Illinois and you a hidden gem, in season. A great little restaurant, The Etown Restaurant, actually floats right on the Ohio River!  Well known for its fresh caught catfish, among other items, during the busy summer months on weekends there can be quite the wait!  But no worries, relax and enjoy some outside seating if the weather is nice!

Nearby Cave in Rock, Illinois has a free ferry that you can ride across the Ohio River and back.  A couple of restaurants and antique stores round out the small town atmosphere.  Travel a little further south to Rosiclare, Illinois and you have a grocery store, small businesses, and a couple more local restaurants to choose from!

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