Graham's Iron Forge


See Attachments below for Relevant Documentation




GoogleBooks Source

4. Cedar Run Furnace, Graham & Robinson, Graham's Forge, Wythe county. One stack, 32x9, built in 1832, cold Wast; water-power; ore mined on the lurnace property; specialty, car-wheel pig iron. Selling agents R. C. Hotf.nan & Co., Baltimore. J. W. Robmson, part owner a1:d general manager.

26. Reed Island Furnace, Reed Island Iron Co., Reed Island, Wythe county. Furnace in Pulaski county. Main office, Graham's Forge. One stack, 33x9, first put in blast April 28, 1881; cold blast; open top; water power; ore, local hematite: product, car-wheel pig iron; annual capacity, 2,000 net tons. Owners, J. W. Robinson, D. P. Graham, J. W. McGavock and R. C. Hoffman & Co. W. R. Tipton, superintendent


Medicine and Slavery 

 “Records kept by the proprietors of Graham’s Forge in Wythe County illustrated the manner in which the rural industrial slaves were fed.  Graham hired both slave and free white laborers for his iron operation; he fed them in separate boardinghouses for at least the period between mid-June 1857 and mid October 1858.  The very extensive and specific daily journal entries listing foods obtained for both houses provide an unusual opportunity to view the differences in nourishment that each group received. Unfortunately, there is no extant record of number of workers at the establishment during this period, so individual food allotment cannot be determined precisely.  The variet of foods served, however, reflects not only the superior nourishment (by nineteenth-century standards) of the white workers’ diet over that of the blacks, but also the seasonal shortages of two staples, corn and pork.  Vegetable, fruit and poultry appear on neither list, indicating that laborers purchased or raised these themselves, or that Graham supplied them as they became available.”



Black Confederates and Afro Yankees


“David Graham and Son Iron Works operated in Wythe County at Graham’s Forge, and for this and adjunct enterprises the Grahams relied on and hired slaves. Their agent, John W. Robinson, scoured the region for skilled blacks and, if all else failed, hired unskilled ones.  These slaves were rehired the following year including a slave named Waller hired from John Cork for the period of 1 March to 25 December 1862.  Waller was to be supplied with the necessary “summer and winter clothing,” and the Grahams were to pay the county and state taxes for him.  Cork was to receive payment of $110 on Christmas Day for Waller’s work.  Robinson’s hire of ten slaves from William B. Crumb in 1862 cost Graham and Son only $995, a relatively modest expenditure in light of the booming profits the firm earned from their biggest customer, the Confederate government.” 

Read more at the Google Books link above.





The furnace photos located on this page are of furnaces in the Wythe County area. 
Their placement on this webpage in no way signifies ownership at any time by the Graham family. 
Graham's Forge would have looked something
like these Iron Forges from the same time period.  
The Graham's Forge was located on the front lawn of 
Major Graham's Mansion.




"Old Iron Furnace" -  Cripple Creek Area




"Raven Cliff Furnace" - Cripple Creek Area





Boone's Furnace in Barren Springs 
Eagle Rock Furnace - Mule Hell Area
Walton Furnace - East Piney Community
Also Walton Furnace - East Piney Community
Watts Bottom Iron Furnace
What is the difference in a forge and a furnace? 
 For the Answer Click HERE.
Information about Iron Industry below was found HERE.


The story of the iron industry in the United States began in Virginia when the Jamestown colonists in 1609 mined the first iron ore (Holden, 1907). (The ore was taken to England where it produced 16 tons of “superior metal.”) Between 1619 and 1622, Virginia settlers built the first iron furnace in the young English colonies; this was a charcoal furnace located near the James River about seven miles south of Richmond. A raid by Native Americans in 1622 destroyed the furnace and brought successful Virginia iron operations to a halt for nearly a century. In 1714, Governor Alexander Spotswood re-established iron production in Virginia by erecting a furnace in the Piedmont west of Fredericksburg near the Rappahannock River. Succeeding iron-making activities spread westward and, during the second half of the eighteenth century, a number of furnaces and forges started operating west of the Blue Ridge. This trend continued into the first half of the nineteenth century as Virginia's thriving iron industry became located primarily in the Valley and Ridge. Brady (1991, p. 27) reported that 45 furnaces and forges were erected in this region in the 1826-1850 period.

During these pre-Civil War years, southwestern Virginia also had flourishing iron-making operations, centered in Wythe County in the New River-Cripple Creek region (Figure 2). No one knows exactly when iron manufacture began in this district. The earliest operation reported is a “tradition” (Wilson, 1932) that a forge at Sugar Grove in Smyth County made cannons during the American Revolution, although the actual product may have been musket barrels. Southern Wythe county, which rose quickly to dominate the region's industry, had iron works established by the late 1700s (Whitman, 1942; Chitwood, 1976; Kegley, 1989). The first documented iron production in this county occurred when a bloomery, whose precise location is unknown, was erected along Cripple Creek (Kegley, 1989). A bloomery was a type of forge where “blooms,” i.e., large blocks of smelted iron received from a furnace, were hammered into shape using large trip hammers. By 1798, a furnace operated at Poplar Camp; a forge was built here at about the same time (Whitman, 1942). Sometime between 1817 and 1827 the last blast of the Poplar Camp Furnace took place and it was in ruins by the Civil War (Kegley, 1989). Another early Wythe County ironworks was in operation in the Graham's Forge (a later name) area by 1796 and a forge was added in 1805. Some of the iron-making facilities at Graham's Forge were rebuilt in the pre-Civil War years and saw service during the conflict.

Perhaps the most magnificent of the pioneer New River-Cripple Creek iron operations was the Speedwell Furnace (Figure 4). This furnace, located just west of the town of Speedwell on Cripple Creek, was built sometime prior to December 10, 1799 (Kegley, 1989). The iron works here prospered in the early 1800s, but became inactive in the 1830s and continued unused during the Civil War. The furnace was rebuilt in the early 1870s and played an integral role in the reemergence of the New River-Cripple Creek iron industry during the boom days of the late 1800s. One important (if indirect) contribution to the Confederate war effort was the production prior to the Civil War of some of the kettles used at Saltville to boil the briny waters for salt extraction (Whitman, 1942).

After the turn of the nineteenth century, a number of other Wythe County iron furnaces and forges appeared that would aid the Confederate cause in the 1860s (Whitman, 1942; Chitwood, 1976; Kegley, 1989). These included Wythe (or Little Wythe) Furnace, built around 1807; Raven Cliff, established about 1810 (Figure 5); and Eagle (also called Grey Eagle or Eagle Rock), constructed in 1863 (Figure 6). Eagle and Grey Eagle apparently were separate entities, the former name referring to the forge and the latter to the furnace.

Of all the Wythe County antebellum ironworks destined for service during the Civil War, the most extensive were the operations of David Graham - “the ironmaster of Wythe County” (Kegley, 1989). Graham built a furnace in 1853 at Barren Springs along the south bank of the New River that was in blast as late as November 1864 (Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1995). The center of Graham's iron empire was a complex of furnaces and forges built along Cedar Run, a tributary of the New River. Several stacks built in the decades prior to the war stood here, but only one - Cedar Run Furnace itself - survived into the Civil War period (and beyond) as a large operation (Figure 7). During the 1860s, Graham's Cedar Run Furnace was one of several Wythe County furnaces providing iron to the Tredegar Works. Graham's metal proved unreliable, however, when made into cannon. Tredegar informed Graham that several of the guns had misfired and the cannons had burst!

Although Wythe County had the most iron works in pre-Civil War southwestern Virginia, adjacent Smyth County had a number of iron operations also. The most important of these, and the only Smyth County furnace known to have been in blast during the war, were the large iron works established by Abijah Thomas on the very eve of hostilities (Sturgill, 1990). Thomas owned thousands of acres of mountain land that contained abundant iron ore, timber, limestone, and water power. On his land, he determined to build an iron furnace along Staley's Creek, just south of Marion. This he did with two partners and the first blast occurred about April 1, 1861. Thomas' works lasted only three and a half years; they were utterly destroyed by Yankee raiders in late 1864.

Finally, two pre-war iron foundries in southwestern Virginia - Barrett's Foundry in Wytheville and the Goodell and Quaife Foundry and Machine Shop in Marion - achieved industrial prominence during the conflict. Barrett's was established in 1858 and manufactured stationary engines, grist and sawmill gearings, circular sawmills, tobacco fixtures, plows, railings, stoves, columns, and “ironfront and cash windows” (Kegley, 1989). The Marion foundry was established in 1859 by two northern businessmen; it was located on Staley's Creek not far from the Thomas Furnace (Wilson, 1932). Both of these foundries switched rapidly to wartime production in 1861 as the need for iron products domestically produced by the South soared.


All of the iron furnaces in Virginia before and during the Civil War were charcoal furnaces. This surprisingly old technology traces its lineage back to the appearance of the first blast furnace in the fourteenth century (Jensen and Bateman, 1981). During the sixteenth century the forests of Great Britain (including Robin Hood's Sherwood Forest) were denuded to supply charcoal to smelt iron ore. The story of the charcoal era of iron production in Virginia is especially well told in Brady (1991); Mandigo (1986) and Kegley (1989) provide much specific information on the New River-Cripple Creek operations. Most of the material in this section is taken from these sources.

Choosing a proper site was extremely important to ensure the success of the furnace. Of course, the four essentials of operation - wood, water, limestone, and iron ore - had to be plentiful and nearby, but topography was an important consideration also. The furnace had to be positioned on relatively flat ground at the base of a hill or ridge so that a bridge (wooden walkway) could be built to the top of the furnace. This was because workmen called “fillers” filled the furnace from the top with a “charge” of charcoal, limestone, and iron ore. Space had to be provided in the high ground area for the charcoal house and the storage of limestone and ore. Around the base of the furnace, a reasonably level area was needed to accommodate the casting floor.

The basic architecture of nineteenth century charcoal furnaces was that of a truncated stone pyramid (Figures 4, 5, 6, 7). The square bases were typically 25 to 30 feet on a side and 25 to 35 feet high. Stack heights exceeding these values led to excessively heavy charges that crushed the charcoal at the bottom, thus sealing off the air blast to the fire. Most furnaces had two arch openings and sometimes three. The main arch was the casting arch and the other one or two were for the injection of forced air to increase the fire temperature. The outside of the stack was commonly made of large blocks of precisely-cut limestone; the interior was lined with fire brick. Between these two walls was an open space several inches wide filled with clay, coarse mortar, or rubble to protect the limestone exterior from the decomposing effects of the high temperatures within. Most of the stacks were strengthened with reinforcing iron girders, rods, or plates embedded in the walls. Inside the stack, the various levels decreased in size downward toward the “hearth” or reservoir at the bottom of the furnace into which the molten iron flowed. The hearth was small (only a few feet in diameter) to concentrate the molten iron to prevent solidification. The narrowing downward of chambers inside the stack supported the major weight of the charge.

Charcoal iron furnaces used a technology called “cold blast.” This term denotes the fact that a blast of outside air at normal atmospheric temperature was forced or blown into the fire chamber of the furnace. This was done through one or more openings in the sides of the furnace where nozzle-like fixtures connected by iron pipes to blowing devices where inserted. Flowing water in streams such as Cripple Creek commonly provided the power to drive the bellows or other blowing devices. The creeks were typically dammed and the water diverted to the furnace area to turn the water wheel. Some of the wheels were quite large, measuring up to 24 feet in diameter.

Blasting operations began at the charcoal furnaces by first filling the stack completely with charcoal and lighting it from the top. After several days, the fire burned down to the air induction openings, at which point workmen refilled the furnace with charcoal. The fire burned back up to the top; the first blast was then applied to bring the temperature up to the 2300ºF to 2500ºF needed to smelt the ore. As the charge settled, the furnace was continuously refilled with alternating layers of charcoal, ore, and limestone. In the smelting process, the limestone served to produce a slag containing impurities which, being less dense, collected on the surface of the molten iron.

During a period of blast, the iron and slag were tapped off on the average of twice a day. The “Furnace Man” would use a long iron rod to break open the clay door in the hearth, thus allowing the molten iron to flow out onto the casting floor. (The slag was extracted by a similar process but through a clay door above the level of the molten iron.) True pig iron formed when molten iron flowed from the furnace into a casting bed made of sand sculpted to allow the liquid to follow a main trench (the “sow”) and then feed into numerous side gutters (the “pigs”). The casting of other items such as pots, pans, skillets, kettles, and stove parts were done using sand molds in the casting shed. Many furnaces also included a forge at which the pig iron was further refined through heating and hammering into bar iron. This bar iron became the source metal from which a blacksmith might fashion wagon tires, horseshoes, hinges, nails, and tools. All told, over a dozen skilled and unskilled laborers, including fillers, furnace men, casting men, a wheelwright, a blacksmith, and sundry other workers, were required to operate a single furnace.

Once placed into operation, the furnaces were worked night and day in two twelve-hour shifts. This went on for three to four months at a time, stopping only for maintenance and repairs. Many furnaces operated for up to nine or 10 months out of the year. According to Mandigo (1986, p. 123), each of the Wythe County furnaces consumed an average of approximately 750 bushels of charcoal, 12 tons of ore, and unknown quantities of limestone to produce about five tons of iron every 24 hours. Nineteen cords of wood were required for the 750 bushels of charcoal, therefore, about an acre of forest was cleared daily for each furnace.


The actual number, kinds, and locations of the iron operations active in southwestern Virginia during 1861-1865 is very difficult to determine. Record keeping by both the iron businesses and the Confederate government was poor in many cases; much information was later lost or destroyed. According to Bruce (1930, p. 454) and Kegley (1989, p. 351), the furnaces at Barren Springs, Cedar Run (Graham's), Raven Cliff, and Wythe in Wythe County and the Thomas Furnace at Marion in Smyth County were in operation at one time or another during the war. Confederate correspondence dated November 20, 1864, lists four southwestern Virginia furnaces - Beauregard (probably Wythe Furnace), Grey Eagle, Barren Springs, and Marion Magnetic (Thomas Furnace) - in blast as of that date (out of 18 statewide) (Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1995). The same document notes that Mount Hope (probably Raven Cliff) and Graham's furnaces were out of blast at that time. (This revealing letter explains that the inactive furnaces in Wythe County were rendered so because of “want of labor and supplies,” problems that plagued Virginia iron operations throughout the war.)

One of the sharpest portraits of the wartime activities of a Wythe-Smyth Counties iron furnace emerges from the documents concerning Abijah Thomas' extensive operations at Marion (Sturgill, 1990). Tredegar records show that Thomas and his partner W. F. Hurst agreed on November 2, 1861, to sell to J. R. Anderson and Company (operators of the Tredegar works) all of the pig iron made at the Marion furnace in the years 1862 and 1863. Further, the metal was to be equal in quality to any made in Wythe County. Anderson and Company agreed to pay 45 dollars per ton of 2250 lbs. when the said iron was delivered in Richmond. In an interesting letter dated June 10, 1863, cited in Sturgill (1990, p. 151), C. B. Thomas, an agent of the furnace, wrote a contact in Salem, N.C., asking the North Carolina man if he would

“…do me the favor to get for us 40 or 50 pairs of woolen soles such as you showed me when I was in Salem? …We want them for our hands working about the Furnace and Coaling. They soon burn out leather bottoms.”

Again, on August 10, 1863, Thomas wrote the same correspondent with these comments (Sturgill, 1990):

The Yanks did not extend their visit to our place during their late raid upon Wytheville. [This refers to Union Colonel John Toland's attack on July 18 with about 1000 mounted men.] I think we could have given them a warmer reception at Marion if they had come on than what they got at Wytheville. We had about 500 men well posted waiting for them.”

As the war wore on, troubles mounted for the Marion furnace. Workers became so difficult to obtain that Abijah Thomas and his son applied to the court on March 22, 1864, for the assignment of free African-Americans, if not over 50 years old, to work at their furnace. Twenty-seven men were so assigned. On June 22, 1864, and again on November 22, 1864, the Court ordered patrols to be active in the section of Smyth County where the Thomas Iron Furnace was located. Clearly, manpower shortages and increasing Union military pressure greatly affected the operation of the iron furnaces at Marion and throughout the New River-Cripple Creek district at this point in the conflict.

Besides the furnaces in Wythe and Smyth Counties producing raw iron for the South, two foundries contributed substantially to the war effort. Barrett's Foundry in Wytheville contracted with the Confederate government in 1861 to furnish war materials (Whitman, 1942). Soon the foundry was turning out small cannons, cannon balls, and rifles for the Confederate Army. According to Kegley (1989, p. 360), “in the summer of 1861, Barrett advertised for thirty gunsmiths to assist him. He was manufacturing 10 rifles a day and hoped soon to be able to make 20. In 1862, he advertised for 50 gunsmiths and mechanics. In that year, he obtained 427 Hall rifles and bayonets and was making muzzle-loading rifles from the U.S. breech-loading rifle model of 1819.” In this procedure, the foundry cut fine rifling into the old smooth bore muskets and replaced the ignition flints with percussion cap nipples (Walker, 1985). Evidently, Barrett's operation was one of the few places in the entire South that produced percussion caps. This foundry also performed other armaments work on occasion for the Confederate government, including repairing muskets, locks, stocks, and ramrods. Barrett even patented a kind of “Gatling gun” (Whitman, 1942); this weapon had a seven chamber cylinder and was operated by a crank.

A second foundry providing important war materials was the Goodell and Quaife operation in Smyth County near Marion. Armstrong (1986, p. 113) records some noteworthy writings of G. G. Goodell, one of the owners of the foundry. In July 1861, Goodell wrote:

“We have to melt 50 tons of iron during the next four months. We have a job of 50 salt kettles that will weigh 1100 lbs. each…”

A month later, as demand for salt from the Salt Works at nearby Saltville continued to create a need for the kettles and related items, Goodell noted:

“We have plenty of business now, working 21 men and 2 chattels…We are making 5 or 6 salt kettles a week for which we get 44.00 each…We can not do all the work ordered for want of help. If we had room and machinery we could get work for more than a hundred men.”

But vigorous Federal prosecution of the war never permitted the war industries in southwestern Virginia (or anywhere else) to reach their full potential. (Even the supremely important Tredegar works generally operated at about one-third capacity, principally because of manpower and materials shortages (Crews, 1992; Schult, 1993).) Beginning in mid-summer, 1863, Union attacks, directed mainly at the lead mines at Austinville, the salt works at Saltville, and the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, sharply increased in both frequency and intensity. Eventually, the Federal campaign against the region's mineral industries and railroad culminated in General George Stoneman's devastating raid in late 1864.

Stoneman left Knoxville, TN, on December 10, 1864, with 5,500 men and four artillery pieces. Sweeping northeastward through eastern Tennessee, he entered Virginia at Bristol. Following the railroad up the Great Valley, the Federals drove the weakened Confederate forces before them. Railroad trestles, rolling stock, and depots were eventually burned from Bristol to 10 miles north of Wytheville (Evans, 1993). On December 17, the lead works at Austinville were demolished. Three days later, Stoneman's forces entered Saltville and began a two-day “orgy of destruction” (Marvel, 1992).

Although not a major target of Stoneman's raid, some iron operations came under attack in the course of the campaign. During pursuit of Confederate troops near Marion, about 300 mounted Federal soldiers under a Major Harrison came unexpectedly upon Thomas' iron works which they destroyed on December 16 (Sturgill, 1990). The Yankees set fire to the furnace building and wrecked the dam on Staley's Creek. A local account of this action noted that the raiders discovered 75 “beeves” (beefs) salted down in a large wooden tank onsite at the furnace (Ramsey, 1973). The Union soldiers took what they could and burned the rest. Persons for miles around could smell the burning meat. On the same day, Federal forces reached Wytheville and burned Barrett's Foundry, along with other parts of the town. Ultimately, on December 29, 1864, Stoneman's raiders withdrew to Knoxville, leaving behind ravaged mineral industries and railroads in Virginia.

Stoneman's raid in December 1864 and another in late March and early April of 1865 were the last major military actions in southwestern Virginia. The wartime operations of the great mineral industries of this region passed into history with Lee's surrender at Appomattox on April 9. At last, the Confederate war machine, girded in part by iron produced from the rich limonite ores of the New River-Cripple Creek District, lay crushed.


The salt, lead, and iron industries of southwestern Virginia were in shambles when the Civil War ended in April 1865. Although salt and lead production continued after the war, the best days of these operations had passed. At Austinville, zinc manufacture eventually outstripped lead in the latter part of the 1800s, a condition that held until all operations ceased in 1981. At Saltville, the enormous Civil War output of 10,000 bushels a day of salt was never reached again. In 1906, all salt production ended, although manufacturing of salt byproducts continued until 1972. But iron was another story. Rising from the ashes of wartime devastation, production of this metal entered a boom period that extended from the late 1800s into the early 1900s.

One factor profoundly influencing the ascension of Virginia's iron industry was improved technology in the form of coke (or “hot blast”) furnaces. Coke was first used as a fuel in this state about 1870 and this increased the capacity of the iron furnaces considerably (Gooch, 1954). The older charcoal furnaces had heated from a few hundred to 2,000 tons of ore per year, whereas the coke furnaces handled as much as 90,000 tons a year. The new technology, together with the size of the western Virginia iron deposits, lower ore, labor, and production costs, and proximity to the high-demand Eastern markets, propelled the industry into its “golden age” when Virginia iron was prominent on the national scene.

The limonite deposits of Virginia's Valley and Ridge, particularly those in the Clifton Forge area of the Alleghany-Bath District, were the mainstay of the post-Civil War boom in iron production (Gooch, 1954). Virginia led all states in production of this type of ore from 1890 to 1901. Fueled by this output, the Old Dominion rose as high as number four among all iron-producing states in 1896, 1900, and 1902; she was consistently in the top 10 from 1889 to 1921. Southwestern Virginia contributed substantially to the late 1800s-early 1900s boom also. In the resurgent New River-Cripple Creek District, 12 charcoal furnaces and forges operated in 1880 (Gooch, 1954). Later, six or seven large coke furnaces appeared, and in 1905 two trainloads of ore were being mined and shipped every day from the Cripple Creek area.

Virginia's iron industry declined considerably in the 1920s due to competition from Great Lakes ore, unfavorable freight rates, and inefficient furnace practices (Gooch, 1954). Production finally ceased around 1930 because of these economic problems rather than exhaustion of the ore reserves. The only “iron” production anywhere in Virginia today is still from the old Cripple Creek-New River Limonite District. Here, in southern Pulaski County, Hoover Color Corporation mines iron oxides along the Shady-Erwin contact in large open pits and uses them to produce ocher, umber, and sienna coloring pigments (Sweet and Nolde, 1995). The company is the only operation in the United States that produces sienna. Virginia Earth Pigments Company mines a small quantity of iron oxide from a location in southeastern Wythe County, most of which is sold to Hoover. Ironically, then, the last vestige of Virginia's historic iron-making operations, which contributed so importantly to the Confederate war effort, today produces coloring agents for paints, building materials, and art supplies, including children's crayons.


This article is part of an on-going study examining the relationship between the geology of southwestern Virginia and the Civil War military history of that region. I am grateful to Stan Johnson and Gene Rader of the Virginia Division of Mineral Resources (VDMR) for help during my research in the VDMR library in Charlottesville. Mr. Cecil “Pete” Spraker, historian at the New River Trail State Park, aided greatly by assisting in the location and photography of the Wythe County iron furnaces. Mr. George Mattis in the library at Wytheville Community College provided historical materials. I very much appreciate the help of Ms. Sharon Hollaway, who prepared the manuscript.


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_____, 1884, The Ores of Cripple Creek, Virginia: Transactions American Institute of Mining Engineers, v. XII, p. 27-40.

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Wilson, G., 1932, Smyth County History and Traditions: Kingsport Press, Inc., Kingsport, TN, 397 p.


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