Lock Ridge Furnace presentation given at banquet
The Lock Ridge Historical Society is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the No. 7 Furnace at Lock Ridge in Alburtis.
Historical society President Kevin Shoemaker brought his message about the birth of the iron industry in Alburtis, the canals, railroads, buildings and construction, equipment, and production procedures to the Weisenberg Lowhill Historical Society’s annual banquet Nov. 13 at Ziegels Union Church Breinigsville.
Shoemaker, who brought along a PowerPoint presentation, also discussed the daily life of the workers and their families.
Weisenberg Lowhill Historical Society President Gloria Zimmerman addressed the gathering saying she knew the group would have a great meal and there would be a couple of surprises for them.
The oldest veteran attending, Donald Werley, led the Pledge of Allegiance. The Rev. Dr. Elaine Bogert gave the invocation including the words, “Thanks to God for everyone who has defended us and keeps us safe. Help us to love our neighbors.”
Shoemaker was born and reared in Alburtis and Emmaus. After moving from the area for a time, he returned and with that move back home his love of history also returned.
He said this was only his fourth time to give the history of Lock Ridge Furnace presentation.
The No. 7 furnace had its first blast in March 18, 1868. No. 8 furnace followed a year later, Shoemaker told those gathered.
Erskine Hazard and Josiah White backed the Lock Ridge Iron Company as part of the anthracite iron industry. White wanted industries to be built on the Lehigh Canal and this was one of them.
Changes over the years began with the introduction of anthracite coal as a fuel, the hot blast furnaces and the introduction of the steam engine.
David Thomas discovered blowing hot steam across the coal made it burn as hot as charcoal. He came to America from Europe considering it a better place to live for his wife and children.
He and his son, Samuel, walked north from Allentown and stopped in Catasauqua where he built the Lehigh Crane Iron Furnace which first began producing iron in 1840. There were soon 20 furnaces along the Lehigh River.
With the building of two railroads in Alburtis, the Thomas Iron Company planned the No. 7 and No. 8 furnaces.
A plank road was laid so wagons could be driven to the furnaces. Iron ore was found in small quantities, and the company purchased the land.
The company bought up land until its holdings were larger than the town.
Inside the crucible, temperatures reached 3,000 degrees to melt the iron. The slag worked its way to the top and the iron settled on the bottom.
Bethlehem Steel created steel-jacketed cauldrons. They were filled with anthracite coal, limestone and iron ore.
Everything had to be weighed before being put in the furnace. The higher the grade of limestone used the higher the quality of the iron produced.
A furnace was tapped four times a day seven days a week. After a blast stopped, a rod was driven in to open it so the slag could be skimmed off and placed in a slag cart. The work was all done manually.
The iron ore was poured into pig molds and sows, so named because the forms looked like piglets suckling from a sow. These pieces were broken apart before final hardening.
Some 800 tons a week were produced at Lock Ridge.
In 1915, approximately 200,000 bricks were placed in a design through which air could pass during a rebuilding of the furnaces. Toward the end, they switched to coke.
Workers earned $2.50 per day which was average for the time, said Shoemaker. When in full operation it required 85 to 95 men. The company supported a school and had 13 workers’ houses and a boardinghouse.
Although business picked up during WWI, it dropped after the war and the furnaces were sold for scrap in the 1920s.
Slag piles were crushed and used for items such as sub-bases for roads.
Jean Stoneback, a newspaper reporter, urged the building of a museum and park. Everything salvageable was saved.
In the period 1973-74 reconstruction began.
A movie, “The Legacy of Lock Ridge,” was made. Shoemaker said in the heyday 65 to 80 anthracite furnaces were in operation usually along the rivers.
At the end of Shoemaker’s presentation, Zimmerman asked all veterans to stand and form a line in the back of the room where they were given historical society shirts.
“Thank you for your service,” she told the veterans.