Excerpts from our Kent Tales volume, Iron Fever, which is available from our Gift Shop for $10.
Excerpts from Iron Fever: Kent’s First Ironworks
Kent’s fascination with iron began with the very settling of the town. Lots of the First Division were auctioned at Windham in March of 1738. By September of that year a Town Meeting was held at the home of Ebenezer Barnum, a Kent Proprietor. This was located in North Kent on the twelve rod highway, Kent’s Main Street, two lots below Nathaniel Berry’s farm which is on the west side of the highway at the corner of the old road to the North Kent Bridge where we now go to the dump.
This Town Meeting, among other things, voted to lay out the town’s second highway, “at the foot of the mountain (Cobble Hill’s south end) to continue up the notch (1989 past Walker’s) to the foot of the ‘eight lots’ so-called, eight rods between twelve rods to the Iron Pots.”
Ebenezer Barnum came from Danbury and he may have known that the Ore Bed was open. As early as May 1738, at the second Town Meeting it was voted “that Ebenezer Barnum shall take the 49th lot or share in the First Division on condition that he build a sawmill by the last of December next and also a grist mill in two years.” This lot was way to the south of his homesite and he turned back this offer to the town. Instead he bought the lot in Flanders now occupied by the Kennedy’s and put his grist mill on the east side of Cobble Brook north and across from the sawmill his neighbor Jonathan Morgan had built earlier on the next lot to the south.
Across the highway and south of Barnum’s homesite in North Kent when the Second Division of lots was drawn in 1739, a road was opened up East Mountain to the ridge (Botsford Road), then straight south past the west side of North Spectacle Pond to the Fairweather Purchase on the New Milford border. By 1744, Ebenezer must have explored this road and the North Spectacle area and seen its possibilities for an Iron Works, for he bought two lots in the Second Division on the west side of the pond.
He must have presented a plan to the Town Fathers for at a Town Meeting in that year, 1744, it was voted “Ebenezer Barnum may lay out six acres for the convenience of making an Iron Works dam and that Ebenezer Barnum may lay out four acres more for an Iron Works.” This location was at the outlet of North Spectacle Pond, the northeast side of the pond and this ten acre unit appears in all deeds pertaining to the Iron Works from 1744 through to the end of Morgan’s Forge in 1867.
Barnum sold his grist mill in Flanders to Jonathan Rowley, and set up the Iron Works as a family operation with his sons, Gideon, Ebenezer, Jr., and Richard. They were able to get a plant started. It was an early form of ironworks able to turn out bar iron (pig iron) for the local blacksmiths, forges, and puddling works. It never became a blast furnace…
Macedonia’s Forges and Mills
Mills and forges below the gorge on Macedonia Brook began much earlier than has generally been realized. Water coming from the Nodine Hollow Brook, joined by the Fuller or Pond Mountain Brook forming the Macedonia Brook was harnessed to provide power.
Following the auction of the First Division of lots in Kent in 1738, starting the development of the town, the division and sale of lots continued in a fairly orderly fashion through the tenth division 1771-3. These lots on the east side of the river formed the town, contributed taxes and were under the supervision of the Town Fathers.
Across the river were the Country Lands or Colony Lands, not part of the town, and a few people had settled there before Kent was started. These lands, some 11,000 acres caught the eyes of a number of men who felt there was desirable land to acquire easily, without obligation to the town for taxes or regulation, and with few people having much knowledge of what was available and what it might offer.
Joseph Fuller and Joseph Lasell, original Kent Proprietors, were the first to be tempted by the west bank of the river. They staked out large tracts of land and appealed to the General Assembly for approval of grants, disguising the amount of land involved and presenting themselves as hard-pressed farmers. The legislature was skeptical of their claims and reduced their acreage considerably.
Moses Rowley (or Rowlee) of Sharon must have had some information as to what the land offered, for he acquired almost the whole of Macedonia in a fairly legitimate fashion. At least he paid someone for what he acquired.