Rufus Fuller & The South Kent Ore Bed
The South Kent Ore Bed
Excerpts from our Kent Tales volume of the same name, which is available from our Gift Shop for $10.
In 1816, the center of Kent was still in Flanders, the settlement three miles north of our present monument. Kent Plain, now our Main Street was still primarily the “common ground” for grazing animals, probably with a lane of sorts running through it. The main highway still came from the Cornwall border south over the top of Cobble Hill and over Spooner Hill to Bull’s Bridge.
Farms were the backbone of community life – many large, prosperous ones as well as a fair number of subsistence farms – producing the basic needs of a household. There had begun to be a group of families with small plots who made their living at a craft or at jobs outside the home.
It was essentially a cashless society in which work or produce was exchanged for articles needed to supplement home products. This resulted in an intricate bookkeeping system for every storekeeper and a society dependent on an extended credit system. Storekeepers became the bankers of the community, supplying cash loans when needed. The economic picture is one of a highly interdependent community.
Every section of Kent has brooks, falls and ravines capable of supplying waterpower, and during those years every stream was used. There were several forges and ironworks that were larger scale operations than home forges or blacksmith shops. They made bar iron (pig iron) and tools and utensils. The most important were as follows.
Kent Forges and Ironworks 1816 to 1825
Kent Hollow – Morgans Forge
Ebenezer Barnum started the first Ironworks in Kent in 1744 on the outlet of North Spectacle Pond, at the beginning of Kent Hollow Road (off Route 341). The works had many partners during the years and passed to the Morgans in 1765. In the period 1816 to 1825, David and Daniel Morgan were active. Heman Seger bought a share in 1816 and Lewis Mills one sixteenth. Moses and Heman Swift, Jesse St. John, David and Daniel Morehouse also had interests in it.
South Kent – Carters Forge
On the outlet to Hatch Pond a forge and puddling works were well established. Alpheus Fuller, coming to Kent in 1803, bought one third share of the works as did Jabez Beardsley of South Kent. When Rufus Fuller came in 1816, he also bought a third from James Hurd. In 1824, David Edwards bought into the business and became its most active owner.
Macedonia – Wilsons Forge
A forge on Macedonia Brook was in operation by 1770 when Peter Pratt bought the property. It went through several ownerships before it was bought by Ambrose Wilson in 1791. The ironworks was run by Ambrose and his brother John until 1806 when the Winnegars bought shares in it and eventually became the major operators. From 1816 to 1822, John Wilson, Zacariah and Garret Winnegar, and Jeremiah Reed were operating the ironworks on Macedonia Brook, and Garret Winnegar ran the puddling works at the junction of Preston Mountain Brook and Macedonia Brook.
Macedonia – Converse Forge
In 1796 Elijah Converse had bought the land around Preston Mountain Brook on the west side of the highway where the brook crosses the road (Route 341). From 1816 to 1825, Hiram and Dimmon Converse, Asa Parks, Erastus Chamberlain, J.L. and Cushman Hubbel were all partners in the works.
In passing, it must be noted that there was never a dearth of customers ready to buy into an ironworks.
Warren and Litchfield Ironworks 1818 to 1822
Thanks to Howard Whitney of Warren we have been given notes on some of the ironworks gathered by him in his research on the Petersville Ironworks of Warren.
Woodville – Commings Forge
Originally built by Pratt and Hitchcock in the 1780s, the forge came under the control of Elias Guthrie by 1797, and was referred to as Guthrie’s forge until taken over by Commings. The Commings/Cummings Forge was located in the vicinity of the junction of present day Route 202 and Route 341 (1988). In 1810, Abel Clemons of Litchfield sold to Israel Stone of Litchfield one third of a forge, about a half mile from Forbes and Adam’s Slitting mill. In 1810, Levi Hoyt purchased from Jacob Commings one sixth of a forge a quarter of a mile below Forbes and Adam’s mill. In 1815 Jacob Cummings of Washington bought five sixths of a forge about 80 rods south of Forbes and Adam’s Slitting mill, together with a coal house from Israel Stone of Litchfield.
Woodville – Forbes and Adam Slitting Mill
Samuel Forbes, iron master of Canaan, around 1794 began buying up interests in a Grist Mill, called Landon Mill, on the Shepaug River a little below old Mt. Tom Bridge, with dam and water privilege. By 1798 Forbes had a slitting mill in operation at the same place where the Grist Mill formerly stood. The mill was managed by John Adam, Jr.
After Samuel Forbes’ death, the property fell to several inheritors, and was sold to John Adam of Litchfield, who in turn on October 21st, 1836 sold it to Frederick Chittenden. That same year Chittenden sold half of a rolling mill, sawmill, store and barn in Woodville to Isaac Toucy of Hartford. This sale included some of the Forbes property.
Milton – Simmons Forge
Simmons Forge in Milton was started by Ebenezer Marsh and Abner Land, both of Litchfield. It was known as Marsh Iron works and located in Blue Swamp on a stream flowing into the Shepaug River. Built around 1781, the terms to use and occupy were for 999 years. John and Solomon Simmons bought the iron works from Marsh, together with a dwelling house and a coal house in November of 1787.
In January of 1790 Elisha Forbes bought of John Simmons in the Blue Swamp, one acre of land, bounded east on Simmons, with intention of building a forge.
Guerdon Grannis bought of Solomon Simmons, one eighth part of the forge which was the same part Simmons had purchased of Seth Bishop on September 17, 1804, together with a coal house. In October 1807, Chauncey Dennison sold to Eri Grannis one eighth part of the forge known as Simmons Forge, with one fourth part of a coal house known as Landon’s, also one eighth of anvil, hammer and tools, reserving use to May 1st, 1808. In 1809 Elisha Glover purchased of Thomas Grannis one eighth of the Simmons Forge in Milton and later in 1834 sold his right to Job Simmons.
Hicks Smith owned land around Simmons Forge. In 1814, he purchased from Samuel Gilbert the dwelling in Litchfield standing on land of Smith. It appears he worked for Simmons.
Warren – Hayes Forge
Eri Grannis sold to Justis Sackett, Elijah Hayes, Sherman Hartwell of Warren, and Alanson Swan of Litchfield, a water privilege on the west bank of the Shepaug, together with land required for the purpose of building and erecting a forge, coal house, etc., in the 1820s.
Stephen Wedge lived not far from the Warren road to Milton, and at one time owned one ninth of a forge south of the dwelling of Eri Grannis, with the middle small coal house. His estate sold to George F. Grannis his share of the forge operated by Hayes, Grannis and others in November of 1831.
Warren – Peters Forge
This forge was built by Abijah Pratt in the early 1790s, and had a number of part-time owners, until Eber Peters gained full control. The mill burned down October 15, 1815, but was rebuilt by Peters and called Peters Forge until its closing around 1860. It was on the west bank of the Shepaug, about one mile north of Woodville.
Around 1818, Samuel Gilbert of Warren gave a quit-claim to his share in a certain forge to Eber Peters, which had been bought by Lysander Curtis when it was known as Pratts Forge. Gilbert had several attachments against him, evidently due to his varied interests.
The mill was operated by Eber, Sr., and later by his sons Eber, Jr., John, and Manley. Eber, Jr. moved to the Macedonia section of Kent in 1830, continuing in the iron business. After the father died, John occupied his father’s house on the east bank of the Shepaug in Litchfield, and Manley lived on the west bank, in Warren.
New Preston – Waramaug, Romaug, Raumaug
Edward Cogswell built this mill around 1745, as records show sale of one half an iron works, located on the Aspetuck River, in New Milford North Purchase (south of Lake Waramaug) to Matthew Whipple of Ipswich, Massachusetts on October 24, 1747.
In 1791, Reuben Booth, “being highest bidder at Publick Vendue,” sale of the Hitchcock estate, acquired one quarter of an iron works called Romaug’s Iron Works on the Aspetuck River in New Milford North Purchase.
Owners in 1834 were David Whittlesey, Joseph Bennit, Benoni E. Beardsley, Erastus Lovenridge, and Daniel Beeman, Jr., of Warren. It was then known as Waramaug Iron Works.
Also noted without any details was the Wolcott Iron Works of Litchfield.
All of these forges used South Kent ore, and many of the names of the individuals mentioned appear in the records of Rufus Fuller.
THE ARRIVAL OF RUFUS FULLER
Rufus Fuller came to Kent in May of 1816 to be in charge as clerk of the tavern, store, boarding house and ore sales – all part of the Ore Bed business.
The site of the buildings was on the west side of Geer Mountain Road opposite the start of Ore Hill Road. Old time residents remember the Boarding House as a large stone building with the roof gone, two stories high, with good sized rooms and a fireplace in each room. The 1875 Litchfield Atlas shows three small buildings close together near the road on land owned by the Kent Ore Bed company.
Rufus was provided a Company house, known as the manager’s house, probably the Olson house (1988), as two ledgers were found in its attic and it is known that Jabez Beardsley lived there when he succeeded Rufus. The Boarding House stood below it, close to the road on land now owned by Wendy and Jack Murphy (1988). Behind the Boarding House, also on their land stood a small building. Judging by the shards of pottery and china and other artifacts found there, this must have housed the store and tavern. (According to local history, there is also a ghost on the premises last seen in 1975.)
Rufus came from Plymouth, Connecticut where he had run a tavern. His brother Alpheus had come to Kent in 1803 from Dover, New York where the Fullers had been known as “iron men.” Alpheus had bought one third of the Carter Forge located on the outlet of Hatch Pond on what is now the Harold Bilby property (1988). There was a puddling works on the site which refined bar iron into wrought iron for the making of tools and utensils. It had been in operation under several previous owners. Jabez Beardsley, a native of South Kent, also bought a third of the Carter Forge and became a long time partner of Alpheus.
Prior to Rufus coming to Kent, Alpheus at some time had managed the Ore Bed. Perhaps he knew of the opening of the clerk’s job and he might have been instrumental in securing it for his brother.
Shortly after Rufus arrived, management of the Ore Bed came into the hands of John Adam of Canaan and Samuel William Johnson of Stratford as proprietors with John Adam assuming the major responsibility for its operation.
Beginning in 1797 Samuel Forbes of Canaan, the Iron Master of the Northwest Region and of the Canaan and Salisbury Ironworks, had become interested in the Ore Hill operation and started buying up shares. By 1802 he had acquired the major interest in the bed from the first proprietors. In 1816 he sold one sixth interest to Samuel William Johnson who had also inherited some shares from his father William Samuel Johnson, a major owner and director since 1759.
John Adam was a son-in-law of Samuel Forbes and handled much of the business for Forbes. In 1816 Forbes turned over the rest of his shares to Adam. He and Johnson became the proprietors with Adam assuming the active direction of the Ore Hill operation.
Rufus was appointed Agent for the Proprietors as well as being Clerk of the Tavern, Store and Boarding House. He kept the Johnson and Adam account and handled all related business. The Proprietors were entitled to a share of ore produced in proportion to the number of shares they owned. The share was taken most often in bar iron brought back to the Hill from ore that had been processed. The iron might be sold to their credit or shipped to them to be sold elsewhere. Almost all of Adam’s iron went to Canaan while Rufus sold some of Johnson’s ore locally and some was sold in New York or areas Johnson had contacted himself.
Rufus’ books are carefully kept records of all transactions and reveal the network of relationships through Litchfield County and beyond, as well as facets of life in the township of Kent….
(Note: Many detailed and revealing excerpts from Fuller’s books may be found in Rufus Fuller and the South Kent Ore Bed, available for $10 through the Kent Historical Society’s Gift Shop)
THE ORE HILL
The Kent Ore Bed
The earliest reference to iron in western Connecticut came in 1715 from a committee of men sent to view the Western Lands granted to the towns of Hartford and Windsor by the Connecticut Colony.
Following are excerpts from the book Empire Over the Dam by Howell and Carlson, regarding New Milford’s first iron works at Halfway Falls on the Still River.
August 12, 1732, John Noble sold to Samuel Hathaway of Southfield, Massachusetts a certain piece of land and river at a place called Halfway Falls in the Still Rover, being half an acre, taking in the river and some land so that there may be a suitable way to come to the Iron Works already set up and also at the dam across the river.
December 7, 1732 Peter Hubble of Newtown, sold to John Fairweather one third part of the Iron Works dam, houses and instruments in making iron, on the Halfway Falls on the Still River. (1)
On the 30th of June 1733 John Noble bought back the interest he had sold in the iron works to Mr. Hathaway in 1732. Probably the sale had really been a loan – a common way of recording such a transaction at that time.
The 20th November 1733, Eleazer Hathway, then of New Milford, borrowed L 100 current money of Elisha Williams of New Haven, Peter Kubbel of Newtown, Robert Walker Jr. of Stratford, Jared Elliot of Killingly, Martin Kellog of Wethersfield, David Noble and Joshua Ruggles of New Milford, giving a mortgage on twenty acres of land just above the Iron Works, but Provided Eleazer Hathaway should furnish a certain amount of iron from the Iron Works at certain number of years, then the mortgage to be of no effect.
Mr. Hathaway was to perform the work and business of a skillful Bloomer in the Ironworks built on the Still River in New Milford, belonging to the grantees above named for the benefit and advantage of said grantees; particularly that he should make twenty four tons of iron from two forges yearly, or twelve tons if only one forge should be furnished him. He was to make Shire moulds, cranks, gudgeons, the like such as are wont to be made in Iron Works. (1)
Some of these investors in the Still River works were important in the development of the iron industry in Kent. Apparently they had opened the Ore Bed at South Kent as a source of ore for the Still River works before the town of Kent was formed in 1738. Stockholders in the Ore Bed in 1736 are listed as Alexander Woolcott of New Haven, Robert Walker of Stratford, Martin Kellog of Stratford, Elisha Williams of Yale, Jabez Hurd of Newtown, Jared Elliot of Killingly, David Lewis of Stratford. They formed a company and bought one hundred acres including the Ore Bed from Obadiah Weller, December 15, 1736. They built up a healthy business supplying the Still River Iron Works and other forges in the area.
Considering the slow means of transportation and communication in the 1700s it is surprising to find seven men from six different towns joining together to own South Kent ore hill. Jared Elliot of Killingly was not only a full pastor, but a much sought physician, an experimental farmer, and a leading writer of his day. Captain Martin Kellogg of Wethersfield, captured by the Indians when he was a young man and carried off with his family to Canada, he later escaped, although he was captured twice.
The Rev. Elisha Williams was rector of Yale from 1726 to 1729. Apparently it was in this period he was involved in most of his business trans-actions in the Northwest Region. (He was a Proprietor of Kent in the first land sales.) Later he practiced law in Wethersfield. (1)
In his short History of Kent written 1812, Barzillai Slosson writes:
In the south part of the town about three miles east of the river and one mile north rapidly to the northwest. Until within about ten years past, the ore has been raised by sinking shafts into the earth to the depth of 40 to 80 feet, drawing it up with a windlass. This mode was both dangerous and expensive. As the ore must be blasted from the rocks in these shafts, accidents of a serious nature sometimes happened.
About 10 to 12 years since, a brook which runs at the foot of the hills was turned at a very considerable expense so as to run on that part of the dell from whence the ore was taken. By means of this, a great portion of the earth which lay above the ore has been washed away and deposited in a swamp and pond about ¾ of a mile below. The ore is obtained in this manner at a much less expense than formerly.
The iron made from this ore is generally brittle and not proper for ship-building or for farming utensils. Mixed with ore from Salisbury or Frederickstown it makes iron of excellent quality for any use. The price of ore after it is taken from the earth is 20 to 40 dollars per ton. The amount sold is from 3000 to 3600 dollars per annum.
There are six forges for making iron. They make annually from 30 to 40 tons each. This iron when delivered at mills in Canaan and Washington has generally been worth 100 dollars per ton. The forges are supplied with ore principally from the iron mines before described. Some is brought from Salisbury and some from Frederickstown. Charcoal is made from the wood growing in the town and within a convenient distance from the forges.
The annual value of iron made in this town for several years has been between 20 & 30 thousand dollars. The market has generally been regular and the money paid for the iron within 6 months after it has been delivered at Canaan or Washington. Since the restrictions on commerce the market has been more irregular & sometimes entirely at a stand. (2)
The open pit mine became exhausted about 1854 when the Kent Iron Company acquired the property. Deep shafts were again sunk in a different area of the bed, with a series of galleries radiating from the central shaft. The mine was worked until the closing of the blast furnaces in the late 1800s.
Today the ore pit is a great amphitheater about eight hundred feet in diameter banked by winter fern, a beautiful backdrop for an open air theater but not very accessible.
In spite of Slosson’s estimate the Kent Furnace found “the quality of the ore taken from the Kent Ore bed and melted in the furnaces ran close to 60% iron and was unsurpassed by any other found in the region.” (3)