The Kent Ore Mine was first operated by a man brought over from New York State by the New Milford owners, moreover he was a “Count” from some foreign country. Stuart Hopson & Co. had a man named Hart, from a fine Cornwall family, in charge of the mine and shaft about 300 feet in depth and ran out laterally to find ore deposits. Branch was a very competent miner and a good manager of men. He probably had twenty or more men under him. The success of the mining and furnace operations were due to a great extent to the fidelity and efficient service of these men in various positions.
The making of pig iron was not so simple as might appear on the surface. Constant watchfulness and good judgment in emergencies was required, and in view of the reputation of the Company through a long term of years, it is apparent that skill and initiative were not lacking. But there came a day when reckoning with economics could not be put off.
Volume of Pennsylvania and southern irons had grown enormously, dwarfing the output of charcoal iron furnaces into a fraction of the total iron output of the country. Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Alabama and Lake Superior ores are found in prodigious seams almost on top of the ground, and can be dug out and handled largely by machinery. All but Superior ores are near bituminous coal fields where coal can be “coked” in kilns of concrete and brick that can be used repeatedly. In manpower coke costs less than charcoal, takes up less room and will melt faster, without adding much if any carbon to the iron.
Charcoal iron was probably selling at that time at about $40.00 per ton, while southern iron could be bought for $20.00. Southern and Pennsylvania iron could be built up by judicious mixture with machinery scrap, broken car wheel scrap, steel scrap, and spiegeleisen to meet any requirements met by charcoal iron up to that time, so the handwriting was on the wall and could be readily interpreted.
In consequence, one after another Housatonic Valley Furnace “blowed out” for good. Ashes of the old furnace fires and of the men who dug the ore and tended these fires are now at rest in the hills and valleys that they exploited so successfully and creditably for 150 years. There are still, however, a few descendants of these pioneers who recall with pride their characteristics and experiences handed down by succeeding generations, hence these reminiscences.
The review of the Kent Iron Industry may also be of interest to those of the present generation who are or will be working out gainful undertakings in other new and important fields of industry or action. They may profit by the struggle of past generations, and the appreciation of those qualities that led to their success, integrity, thrift, and endurance under difficulties. This paper is reminiscent rather than historical. The writer has made use of data found in the historical records of Atwater, Bolles, and Miss Newton, and in confirming their statements, which the writer believes are quite correct, he acknowledges with great appreciation their interest in the subject. The writer has added some details that he hopes will be of interest to appreciative readers.
The Lure of the Litchfield Hills, December 1945, Vol. VII, No. 4. The Lure of the Litchfield Hills, June 1946, Vol. IX, No. 1.
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