At Long Pond Ironworks men took iron ore from the Ramapo hills, burned
and extracted it into pig iron and forged it into wrought. Farms and
schools and whole support systems sprung up around the ironworks village
to maintain this rugged venture. The people involved--ironmasters, workers
and families--were pioneers in an industry of uncertainty.
Standing at the crossroads of this ghost town, you can sense the men
and women who helped set the wheels of America in motion at the dawn
of the nation's birth and the Industrial Revolution. Stop and feel the
energy. The Ironworks is a beautiful place to visit in spring, a serene
one- hundred-year-old forest now replenished, breathing the enterprise
of our past.
Ruins of the original company store and offices
stand at the crossroads of town from Colonial times through Hewitts
operation. The store was the heart of the community where everyone
passed through: women to buy calico, kids to buy candy, and men
to buy chewing tobacco. Workers came to collect their pay from
the companys bookkeeper who lived here. The center of town
had fences, cows, gardens, and now only the dirt roads exist, and
the company store. The
also known as Furnace Road during the days of the old ironworks,
runs through here.
The beauty of the Ramapo Mountains that stretch from New Jersey into
New York was known even in Europe in the 1700s when men came looking
for gold and silver. Good as gold, they found iron ore instead. Since
overseas resources had been nearly depleted, iron had become an expensive
commodity. The ore here was magnetite, the richest kind of iron ore,
and the topography was perfect for the iron industry. Erosion had exposed
ore in surface outcroppings, so they didn't have to dig into the earth
to mine. Thick virgin forest covered the hills with enough trees to fuel
the furnaces for many years to come. Three rivers and streams provided
waterpower, and furnaces could be built at the bottoms of hills below
these water sources, allowing gravity flow. Ancient streams formed pre-cut
gradients for roads, and nearby waters were deep enough for shipping
iron to ports and to other roads through the Colonies. These natural
features lured investors from England to build ironworks and whole towns
throughout the Ramapo hills with everything they needed to live.
German Ironmaster Peter Hasenclever built Long Pond Ironworks in 1766
on the Wanaque River two miles below Long Pond (Greenwood Lake). He brought
500 highly-skilled ironworkers and their families from Germany. He built
a dam and reservoir on Long Pond (a small pond then) to reserve water
for rainless seasons. He built a furnace, forge, two coal houses, six
collier houses, a sawmill, horse stable, two ponds, and two bridges--all
linked by roads through the forest. Pick axes and crowbars were the major
tools the men used to take the iron from the rock.
This illustration shows the principles common
to all cold-blast furnaces. Men and boys on the charging bridge
tap raw materials from baskets and barrows into the blast furnace.
The furnace works continuously, with iron ore and charcoal gradually
descending through the stack. In the upper part, moisture and gases
are driven off, and in the lower part the ore is reduced to metallic
iron. At the top of the boshes the earthy impurities (fused into
slag) and iron are funnelled down into the hearth, where the slag
floats on top of the denser metal. The water-powered bellows blow
air into the hearth through the tuyere. At intervals, the slag
is drawn off through the slag notch at one side of the fore-arch.
When sufficient iron accumulates in the bottom of the hearth, the
clay plug in the tap hole is broken and molten iron flows out into
a channel to the pig bed. The main channel is called the sow. the
iron in the branch channels solidifies to form pigs. The furnace
was manned day and night during a campaign, which might last anywhere
from two to ten months. The furnace was usually tapped twice a
The furnace is a stone structure shaped like a tee pee with an open
flu. Inside is a slate-lined "soup-pot" called a crucible, and from the
hillside leading to the top of the furnace tower is a charging bridge.
Men dumped layers of three ingredients into the stack: iron ore, limestone
and the fuel that was charcoal made from trees. They set it on fire and
blew oxygen into the furnace with two 20-foot bellows run by cams on
revolving shafts powered by a waterwheel--an overshot wheel with buckets
on it. A cast iron pipe carried the water from a notch in the rocky streambed,
through the raceway to the waterwheel buckets. The buckets filled and
were heavy and gravity took them down, forcing the wheel to turn. The
bellows forced the air into a tiny hole that got the furnace to a blast
about 1800 degrees, and the iron melted. It trickled to the hearth and
flowed out onto sand beds of the casting house into long troughs with
smaller parallel troughs running off one side, looking like a sow and
suckling piglets. "Pig iron" was born.
Three acres of woodland went into the furnace every day as charcoal.
Preparing that fuel was weather-dependent hard work. Trees were selectively
cut and sawed in winter when sap was in the roots, and made into charcoal
from May to October. The men stacked the wood into a cone-shaped pile,
then covered it with soil and damp leaves, leaving an open stack in the
middle. They dropped burning chips down the stack and set the pile to
smoldering. They dug holes in the sides of the stack to aid the draft,
adjusting them depending on the wind. It took three to five days of constant
surveillance to make charcoal, so the men erected small tee pee-like
huts of wood and stone to sleep in near the pile. After the charcoal
cooled, they took it to the furnace as needed.
When the pigs cooled in the casting house they were taken to the forge
and heated and softened and beaten into big lumps. They were heated again,
pounded by water-powered trip-hammers the size of a man's torso and shaped
into wrought iron bars and other forms.
The ironworks was set up to be largely sustainable with the company's
own mules, horses, oxen, implements and necessities. Nearby farmers grew
food for critters and people. The company store supplied the rest, and
many families had their own cows and gardens. There were churches, schools,
stores, offices, and gristmills.
The colonies were not allowed to manufacture goods except for raw products
like pig iron. The pig was shipped to England and made into tools and
other goods, then shipped back to the colonies. At the time of the Revolution,
Robert Erskine, a shrewd English businessman and Ironmaster of the ironworks,
sided with the colonists and became the first Surveyor-General in the
Continental army. Although the ironworks produced goods for Washington's
army and 14% of the world's iron supply, Long Pond stood silent during
much of the war. Ironmasters faded and changed, recalled by the investor
company, and the ironworks changed ownership repeatedly over the 120
years it operated. The Civil War was the impetus to rebuild due to contracts
with the Union army for gunmetal. The new owner, Abram Hewitt, made renovations
that included a bigger, better furnace that burned anthracite coal from
Pennsylvania and a special kiln that reduced waste. But the market eventually
dropped, and the waterwheels failed. In1882 Mr. Hewitt abandoned Long
Pond in favor of a new location close to the Pennsylvania coal fields.
When he left, there was not a tree to be seen in the hills of Ramapo.
This stone double house, built in late 1700s, could
be the oldest standing structure in the historic district. Two families
of ironworkers lived here. Objects from the 1770s, like pieces of
ceramic plates that were ordered by the company in London and shipped
here and sold to the company store then sold to the people who lived
in the village., were discovered during a dig under the house.
In 1957, vandals set fire to the two waterwheels, but the Friends of
Long Pond Ironworks (FOLPI) obtained funds to preserve one wheel in its
charred condition with the original iron axle, and rebuild the second
25-foot diameter wooden wheel on a cast iron axle. The wheels produced
about 200-horse power. The FOLPI are looking into ways of preserving the
ruins as ruins, rather than as reconstructions. They decided as a group
that there's something about ruins that speaks to you on a whole different
level. Twelve buildings and some 70 ruins including three furnaces still
stand at Long Pond. Long Pond Ironworks Historic District, 170 acres,
is listed on both state and national historic registers and is a National
Historic Landmark District.
Visitors can see the natural resources still there today and piece together
the action that began and ended there over a hundred years ago. The museum
offers displays of iron goods made at Long Pond including the last of
twenty cast iron cooking stoves made for the soldiers at Washington's
camps in Morristown and Windsor. There are photos, maps and drawings
and lots of information on Long Pond and other ironworks ruins in the
The Historic Preservation Specialist at Long Pond Ironworks explained, "The
first furnace here would make 25 tons a week and now they probably make
25 tons in a couple of minutes. The first group of people here were Germans.
Some of the old families are still around but they spread out and took
their technology and started other iron works in PA, Ohio, NY, and really
had a major impact on the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.
It was the iron and steel industry that pushed America to its world prominence.
With ships with railroads with machinery, with weaponry, iron and steel
really blew the whole thing out of the water in the 19th century. So
by 1900 America was the world power.
"Hewitt is a cradle for the early iron industry. For many people who
drive through on the scenic county roads, 511, 513, and 517, unless you
go off and stumble across a ruin of stonework off in the woods, you have
no idea that West Milford was founded as an industrial area, that the
farms that you see were there to feed the communities of industrial workers.
If you come here now and live in a bedroom community you have no idea."
In normal times, The Friends of Long Pond Ironworks present many interesting and fun events, re-enactments and tours.
For information and directions call the Friends
of Long Pond Ironworks at 973-657-1688 or call Ringwood State Park at
973-962-2240. Or ring up their
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This story was first published: Spring, 2002