Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site
An early American “Iron Plantation” — a forerunner of today’s iron and steel industries
History is everywhere at Hopewell Furnace, a colonial era plantation village. Visit Hopewell, set inside the 848-acre French Creek State Park, and you’ll get an up close and personal look at a colonial-era village dedicated to producing iron.
Step inside the original buildings and cottages for a glimpse of the workers’ daily life. You’ll have a chance to participate in a variety of demonstrations on charcoal burning and craft making. Depending on the season, you could see newly born lambs.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you might even want to try your hand at shearing the older sheep!
Visitors standing just outside of the modern Visitor Center on top of a hill overlooking the 800-acre site are treated to an idyllic view of a colonial and early-1800s “iron plantation” that used slave and free labor. Built in 1771 by the ironmaster Mark Bird, Hopewell Furnace consists of a mansion (the big house), spring and smoke houses, blacksmith shop, office store, charcoal house and even a schoolhouse.
An introductory film in the Visitor Center, before taking off on a self-guided tour, focuses on many topics, including how Bird (a colonel and quartermaster in the Continental Army) supported Washington’s forces with cannon, shot, shell and even flour. The furnace, which operated until 1883, produced 115 big guns for the Continental Navy. Other items once produced at the site included plowshares, pots, stoves and scale weights.
Hopewell Furnace lies at the center of French Creek State Park, and consists of 14 restored structures as well as the paths, fields and meadows of the one-time working village. The buildings include a blast furnace, the ironmaster’s mansion, and auxiliary structures.
Today, the site is an interesting visit for the hikers, backpackers, and campers who are spending time at French Creek State Park. Bird-watchers and nature photographers as well as hitory buffs enjoy the tours, and picnics are encouraged.
It’s hard to believe that little more than 100 years ago, the surrounding hills were cut bare, and the air would have been filled with the noise and the soot of the iron furnaces. The old growth forest of American Chestnut is gone, but good land management has allowed the forests to heal, and eastern sections of the 848-acre French Creek State Park are returning to mature old growth forest. You may even see some white-tail deer, or curious raccoons.
Hopewell Furnace was erected at the dawn of America’s Revolution. After Bird and his business succumbed to financial problems, Clement Brooke later presided over the facility’s best years, from 1816 to 1831. Brooke eventually retired in 1848. In 1883 Hopewell Furnace closed as an iron-making facility.
There is a fee to enter the buildings on this site, although you can wander the grounds for free. No alcohol is permitted, and dogs must be leashed.
In early spring, look for newborn lambs. August and September are the busiest months.
Wear comfortable shoes to walk the sprawling site.
A great agricultural tool exhibit allows children to examine them in the Visitor Center; there are also small farm animals, such as chickens, and apple trees ready to pick in season.