The story of a forgotten America.

Virginia Furnace

The Virginia Furnace, a historic iron furnace situated in Preston County, West Virginia, operated from 1854 to 1880.

The Virginia Furnace, a historic iron furnace situated in Preston County, West Virginia, operated from 1854 to 1880.

Harrison Hagans operated the furnace, having contracted local mason Levi Kennett to build it. 2 Construction commenced in the fall of 1854, and the furnace became operational later that year or in early 1855. The furnace featured a 30-foot tall stack, a six-foot tall trunnel atop the stack, and a 34-foot wide bosh, utilizing charcoal for fuel. 1 2 Its cold air blast was propelled by a blowing engine, powered by a 52-foot diameter water wheel located along Crab Orchard Run. Smelting, once initiated, operated continuously, 24 hours a day. 2 Every eight hours, molten iron was cast from the furnace’s bottom into a sand bed, creating voids that formed “pigs.” Once cooled, these pigs were broken up and transported to mills for additional refining. The furnace could produce 25 tons of forge-grade pig iron per week.

Under George Maust’s management, the furnace prospered. 2 However, following Hagan’s death in 1867, it experienced a decline. John G. Landon purchased the site in January 1874 for $12,000. The economic Panic of 1873 precipitated the furnace’s foreclosure, and in November 1879, it was acquired by James C. McGrew, Hagans’ son-in-law, at a public auction for $75.80. In April 1880, Seely B. Patterson and his wife Amanda purchased the furnace for $6,000, thereafter renaming it Josephine Furnace. It rapidly failed.

Iron production in Monongalia County commenced in 1798 with the initiation of two blast furnaces and a forge. 2 By 1823, northern West Virginia housed at least seven blast furnaces and three forges. In 1850, Monongalia County contained six furnaces, Preston County two, Marion County three, Harrison County two, and Barbour County one. However, the industry began its decline by the Civil War’s onset due to depleting timber and iron ore reserves, coupled with an underdeveloped transportation system.

The 1853 introduction of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in the county revitalized the local iron industry. 2 Recognizing the railroad’s significance, Hagans erected the Virginia Furnace alongside a turnpike, creating a connection with the railroad at Terra Alta.

In the 1870s, industrialist Andrew Carnegie established highly efficient blast furnaces in Pittsburgh, which benefited from ample access to coke and coal via railroads from coalfields and iron ore via freighters and railroads from the Great Lakes region. Moreover, Carnegie’s Bessemer process manufactured a superior product, steel, from cast iron.

When it closed in 1880, the Virginia Furnace was notable as the last charcoal iron furnace to operate in Preston County. 1 2 After its closure, ownership reverted to James McGrew, who sold the site to Alexander Tait in November 1893. 2 Tait retained ownership until 1902, at which point Stephen B. Elkins acquired it. From 1902 to 1940, various coal companies owned the property, ultimately culminating in ownership by Bethlehem Mines Company, a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel Corporation.

In June 1933, Bethlehem Steel granted the Kingswood Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) a long-term lease of the furnace site, where they established a roadside park. 1 2 In 1940, the property was formally conveyed to the DAR. 2 However, a decline in the Kingwood Chapter led to the property reverting to Bethlehem Steel, who deeded it to the Preston County Historical Society in July 1997.



  1. Virginia Furnace.” West Virginia Explorer.
  2. Maddex, Lee R. “Virginia Furnace.” National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination Form. 19 Oct. 1998.

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