Columbia-Montour Quarterly Vol. 8: April-June 2023

History in Our Backyard

The Liberty Furnace

by Linda Sones

As a hiker and metal detectorist, I love to find old historic things in the woods. Everything has a story to tell, and I try to find out what that story is, the best I am able. On New Year’s Day, I had the privilege of hiking (with about 70 other people) on Montour Ridge in Montour County. Van Wagner, a local historian and musician, along with Bob Stoudt, the Executive Director of the Montour Area Recreation Commission, hosted the hike and shared some of the little- known history that lies on this ridge: the history of Liberty Furnace. We started in the Game Lands parking lots and were informed of the richness of ore in the ridge. There are two types of iron ore in Montour County, fossil and iron sandstone. Montour Ridge has both, and it is most likely the very reason why the furnace was built on the ridge. Both types were mined and used at Liberty Furnace. The furnace was built on the outcrop of the fossil ore and only about 200 feet from the sandstone ore outcrop. As we wandered up the road and into the woods, Wagner told us the story of how the furnace was first built and how it operated. He compared it to the Hopewell Furnace Historic site - some of which remains today as a National Historic Site - as it operated in the same manner. The Liberty Furnace had a short lifecycle; it was built in 1839 and then went up for rent in 1845. Why did it stop producing pig iron? Perhaps it was how the ore was processed. It was noted in historic documents that the furnace switched from charcoal to anthracite coal at some point in time. Why did they switch? And, why did they shut down operations? We do know they used charcoal, as there are charcoal pits (flat areas where the charcoal was made) seen all over the ridge. We visited one such place and learned how the colliers (a person who produces charcoal) built large wooden structures that would, in the end, become charcoal. We also saw depressions made for the trucks to back into so the men didn’t have to lift the logs as high onto the trucks, thus, supporting the collier’s charcoal-making process. It required

Van Wagner presents a historical photo during our hike.


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