Our early supply of nails was made from this product and are found today in any old house built 150 years ago. The operation of a puddling furnace, therefore, was a most useful and valuable adjunct to a pig iron furnace, as it produced a metal that could be used where cast iron was unsuitable. Unfortunately, the Puddling furnace, with its buildings, was destroyed by fire in the 1830s and was not rebuilt, probably due to the limited amount of power from the brook and the small output from a plant which involved a considerable amount of expensive machinery. This must have been a distinctive loss to the community, as it meant that pig iron from Kent furnaces must be refined elsewhere and brought back again, in many useful shapes.
The Puddling furnace was operated by Eber Peters, grandfather of the present John Peters, now living alongside the brook as above referred to. Eber Peters came to this section from Albany (Eber Peters came from Petersville in Warren in 1830. He had been active in an Ironworks on the Shepaug River in that area formerly owned by his father), and besides operating the Puddling furnace, had in operation on the site, well known to most of us, a saw and shingle mill, as well as a cider mill, just at the turn of the road, north. Mr. John Peters, son of Eber Peters, carried on these same industries, except the Puddling furnace, as long as he lived.
Personnel of the furnace has not especially been referred to. They are entitled to comment as being responsible for efficient service in their respective positions. From the beginning of Stuart Hopson Company, to the final blast of the furnace under the Kent Iron Company, the direction and management of all operations was in the hands of John Hopson, who was Treasurer and Executive Director of the Corporation. John Hopson, Jr., for a term of years was in charge of the office, but withdrew about 1880, to found and manage a business of his own. George R. Bull, then took over the office management as Secretary of the Company.
John Hopson, Sr., had learned the details of making iron the hard way, without the assistance of chemical or mechanical engineering assistance. He knew most of the answers, and worked out those he did not know. He was a driver, but of himself first and always, and he had the faculty of selecting and keeping men employed in the various branches of the work who knew what was expected of them and who had intuitively that degree of loyalty and cooperation that made them key men for dependence and reliability.
James Barker was an outstanding example. A big strong, healthy individual who watched carefully the quality of ore, lime and charcoal from which high grade iron was expected, the operation of the water wheel, the careful grading of the iron produced and the oversight of the men in the casting house and top house all came under his jurisdiction. He probably missed but few occasions of tapping the stack for each casting. In later years his son, Walter, equally efficient and reliable, succeeded him.
“Hank” Waldron was equally as good a man in charge of the men and operations on the “Bank.” He had charge of all material arriving at the bank and saw to it that the several kinds and quantities were ready at all times for delivery at the stack. There were 20 to 25 men with horse and ox teams under this direction engaged in steady routine in supplying the furnace. Even the men in common labor were especially selected as dependable in knowing what to do and when to do it without let up and in all weather.
There were three Johnsons, “Pedlar,” who brought back a crooked leg from the Civil War, a teamster, also Dwight and Fred in various capacities. There were other Waldrons besides “Hank,” but not related. There were Bartons without limit, farmers and teamsters. Elmer, Thompson, Charles, Egbert, and Joseph. John Barton, a son of Elmer, was at one time a clerk in the furnace store and so was tied up with the industry.
John Barton was for many years a civil service agent of the Federal Government, and delivered mail R.F.D. from the Kent office, an honest and faithful executive who retired only a few years since due to age restrictions, and still living in Kent to the writer’s last knowledge.
There were Charlie Drake and David Gambon in charge of the top house except on the 4th of July and such occasions when temporary substitutes might be required. There were at least eight to ten cottages near the bank occupied for the most part by operators who might be on night shifts or for emergencies. These families had gardens of their own, most of them raised a pig each year and some of them kept a cow. There was Alfred Limeburg, for many years the miller, succeeded later by his son, Edward, who had, up to his father’s retirement been a teamster. The last miller was a Mr. Benedict, a fine character and competent millwright as well as miller.
A daughter of Mr. Benedict married George R. Bull and their descendants are still living in Kent. The furnace store was owned and operated by George R. Bull and John Roberts. All kinds of merchandise and supplies were kept at the store and sold to employees of the Furnace and Colleries. Though other people traded at the store and employees could trade at Kent stores if they preferred to do so, there were no restrictions, but employees could and did secure credit at the furnace store if circumstances required it.