Resume of The Kent Iron Industry
By William Trapp Hopson (reprinted from The Lure of the Litchfield Hills Magazine, 1945/46)
The lure of the Litchfield County hills asserted its influence from the beginning of time. In our knowledge, this sentiment prevailed in 1738-1740 when the first settlers took up land grants in Kent and Cornwall. There was no cleared land at that time and heavy timber grew down from the hill tops to the river’s edge. Only men as hardy and rough as the scenery of this section of the State could overlook the obstacles to be surmounted before a house and sustenance could be taken from the ground.
Men who could at the same time visualize the glorious beauty of the hills, valleys, rocks, rills, lakes and streams that abounded in such varied arrangement. From this nucleus of men of strong character and untiring energy have descended those rugged individuals who have established the foundation and then developed the State of Connecticut.
Our forefathers scratched the surface of the ground as they cleared it; raised vegetables and crops by main strength and barehanded; raised sheep and cattle for food and clothing; and from primitive log cabin to house man and beast through winters of intense cold and deep snow went on through progressive steps into substantial houses and barns built from timber and impelled by the necessity of having strong tools for daily use, they dug beneath the surface of the ground until they found rich deposits of iron ore and ledges of pure limestone all about them and with an incalculable supply of wood for making charcoal, established a source of wealth and independence through the mining and smelting of iron not enjoyed to the same extent elsewhere in the State.
According to Atwater’s history of Kent, the Kent ore bed was opened and operated by New Milford men as early as 1736. Tradition has it that a forge for reducing the ore to iron was set up and operated by these men in Merryall evidently of small capacity. It is probable that when Kent Furnace was built that the Kent ore bed was acquired by Stuart Hopson and Company, composed of John L. Stuart, John Hopson, Burritt Eaton and Luther Eaton. In a later reorganization in ’64 by the Kent Iron Company, other stockholders were added probably to supply increased working capital. These were James Pierce of Cornwall, Donald J. Warner of Salisbury, George Church of Great Barrington and John and George Coffin of Vanduesenville, all men of high repute and considerable wealth. George R. Bull and John Roberts were probably added as stockholders at this time.
[Editorial Note: The above paragraph is incorrect. The Kent orebed had been taken over from Obadiah Wheeler of New Milford in 1736 by a group of investors: Alexander Woolcott of New Haven, Robert Walker and Daivd Lewis of Stratford, Elisha Williams of Yale, Jabez Hurd of Newtown and Jared Elliott of Killingly. Wheeler had owned and apparently worked the bed for a number of years. The officers and owners of Stuart, Hopson and Eaton as the first Flanders Company was known, later as the Kent Iron Company, were John L. Stuart, John Hopson, Burritt Eaton and Luther Eaton.
The Kent Iron Company did not own the orebed until 1854 when it bought the shares of the heirs of Samuel Forbes and John Adam of New Canaan. The strip mine had run out at that time and the Kent owners put in shafts for deep mining primarily to supply the Kent Furnace.]
The furnace at Bulls Bridge was built the same year as the Kent furnace (1826) and did a thriving business through the Civil War, but folded up soon after ’65 due perhaps to the fact that it was not located on the railroad which was built through Kent and through the Kent furnace property about 1845. Up to that time both furnaces shipped their product by team to Poughkeepsie and thence by boat. Bulls Bridge furnace evidently brought ore from Clove, just west of Pawling and from Quaker Hill just east of Pawling, on their teams’ return from Poughkeepsie. Charcoal iron made in the Housatonic Valley was the main source of the iron supply of the country for pig iron, wrought iron and steel up to about 1840 and there were at one time twenty-seven furnaces in operation in this section.
The quality of ore taken from Kent ore beds and melted in the Kent furnace was unsurpassed by any other found in this region, though all of the Salisbury ores and those from Amenia mines and Richmond, Massachusetts mines also stood very high. Kent ore ran close to 60% iron which was exceptionally high. At first only five or six tons of iron were cast per day but by rebuilding the stack twice, once in 1844 and again in 1864 the output increased to 10 tons per day and finally to 14 tons per day. After the demands of the Civil War were over the product of the furnace went to such substantial customers as the Rhode Island Locomotive Works, the Schenectady Locomotive Works, Builders Iron Foundry, Harris-Corliss Engine Company, Ramapo Iron Works, makers of engines and pumps in New Jersey and Farrell Foundry Company in Ansonia. These companies required the very best material for their product and evidently secured what they wanted from Kent Iron Company.