Summer Saturday Guides

We at Beckley Furnace traditionally provide Summer Saturday guides from Memorial Day weekend until Columbus Day weekend, and we’re doing it again this year.  Here are the details:

WHEN:  Saturdays beginning at 10 AM, ending at 2 PM.  Guides generally leave promptly at 2 PM, so come a bit earlier if you think you’ll have questions.

WHERE:  You’ll dependably find our guides in the area in front of the furnace.  Depending on the day, you may also find a guide in the office building, but try the furnace area first.

WHO:  Our guides are members of the board of directors of the Friends of Beckley Furnace, the not for profit organization that researches, restores, and interprets Beckley Furnace.  All are knowledgeable; some are regionally and even nationally recognized as experts in the field.

WHAT:  Basically, we’re here to help.  Some people like to conduct self-guided tours, using the signage we’ve prepared.  Others like to be shown around by a guide.  Still others like to look around and then engage one or more of the guides in discussion of particular aspects of the furnace or the historic iron industry of the Upper Housatonic Valley.  It’s your choice!

HOW MUCH does this cost?  NOTHING.  It’s free!  No admission charge, no charge for the guide.

So, we hope you’ll come see us one Saturday this summer.  You can find a map and driving directions HERE.

Beckley Furnace Industrial Monument
Usually you’ll find the guides somewhere in this area.

20th Anniversary

Our 20th Anniversary….

2016 is the 20th Anniversary of the founding of the Friends of Beckley Furnace, and of the Preservation of the Furnace.

In this special year:

During this year, we’ll be sharing with you photos and other artifacts from Beckley’s past, as well as those relating to the preservation efforts themselves.  We’ll bring you recollections of those who were most closely involved in saving this structure — and the whole Beckley complex — from the effects of the passage of time. We have a few special projects in the works as well, including events you’ll want to attend.

You’ll see more here soon about these activities, so come back often!

But we’ll keep doing:

Of course, during the year we’ll continue to do what we do all the time and have done for the past 20 years:

–Offer our summer Saturday guided tours.

–Welcome visiting school groups, historical societies, and other groups with presentations and tours targeted to their interests.

–Add resources to this website about the history of Beckley Furnace, the iron industry, and our place in the world of the Upper Housatonic Valley and the world.

–Research our site and our area to learn more about how iron was made here — and what else went on here as well.

–Support initiatives in teacher education.

–Create media, especially video, to make the history clearer and easier to understand.

–Collaborate with other organizations, like the Falls Village/Canaan Historical Society, the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area, the Salisbury Association, and a host of others.

 

First school visit of the year!

We’ll be the first to admit that February is the earliest we can remember having a first school visit of the year here at Beckley Furnace, but we did that today!

The third grade of Salisbury Central School joined us — despite temps in the 20s — for a bit over an hour of exploration of the furnace and environs as well as discussion of the process of making iron here at Beckley Furnace.  On hand were four experienced leaders:  Ed Kirby, Cliff Waldow, Dick Paddock, and Geoff Brown, and, as well as the teachers, the SCS contingent was accompanied by Lou Buccieri.

The kids split into two groups of around 15 each, and while one group learned about what goes into making

SCS grade 3 2016
One of the groups viewing the photos this morning….

iron (ore, limestone, charcoal), and what comes out (pig iron and slag — more about slag later) and went to visit the new hydraulic turbine exhibit, the other group learned about the iron industry in the tri-state area and viewed real photos of iron workers, furnaces, and mines as they appeared in the old days, and then had a hands-on tour of the furnace itself.  Then the two groups changed places and we repeated the program for them.

Sadly, the weather had left us with about an inch of snow on the slag pile — always a highlight of school visits (and, in fact, most visits) — that made looking for slag samples to take home something we were able to leave out, especially since the open face of the slag heap faces north.  The teachers tell us that the kids will view the video about slag when they get back to school, and many of the kids told us that they planned to bring their parents and siblings back for a visit to Beckley when the weather is a little better.

If you happen to see this and wonder if your school group (or other group) might enjoy a visit to Beckley Furnace, please let us know!  More information about visits for school groups is here.

Slag at Beckley Furnace

Here’s some information about slag at Beckley Furnace.

People generally know about pig iron.  They know what it is, and what it looks like.  Most visitors to Beckley Furnace have seen the signs about how the furnace worked, and how it turned iron ore, charcoal, and limestone into pig iron.  You may even have heard one of our hosts describe the process for you if you’ve visited when one was on duty.

However, fewer people know about slag.  If you’ve ever wondered where the stuff that’s left over from the iron ore and limestone goes after the iron is made and what happens to it, then you’re asking the right question — and slag is the answer.

In this video, Christian Allyn visits the slag pile (and it is a big one!) at Beckley Furnace and shows you what you would find there if you visited yourself.  And he tells you quite a bit about the stuff as well.

Just CLICK HERE to enjoy the video!

Thanks to Christian Allyn, our knowledgeable and personable presenter.  Thanks to Eleanore Jenks who directed the video and who did the video capture as well.  Between the Lakes Group is responsible for post-processing, as they call it in the video trade.

Slag
This is slag! We’ve got a whole mountain of slag.

 

 

Roles for women and girls

Many visitors ask us what were roles for women and girls at Beckley Furnace and in the historic iron industry as well.

The first thing to consider is the period of time in which Beckley Furnace operated.  In the 1800s and early 1900s, women were not permitted to vote in elections, and for the most part were not seen doing industrial work.   By contemporary standards, it was an incredibly sexist age.  While today we know that women can do manual work, often as well as or better than men — that it is more a question of individual differences than gender differences — in those days people assumed that women simply could not do the kind of work required at Beckley and other iron furnaces.  That left men with the major roles in operating a blast furnace.

However, women and girl children still played a critical role without which the industry likely could not have functioned, and if it had functioned it would not have functioned in the way that it did.

Women 

The basic roles women filled at Beckley were cooking, maintaining the household, raising the children, making and repairing clothes, and operating small farms.  That is an impressive string of jobs, and they were critically important to the operation of Beckley furnace despite being done mainly in and around the worker houses, not at the furnace.  Those were times when usually one family member, traditionally the man, was considered “the breadwinner” and worked outside the home.    The rest of the family functioned as the support structure that permitted the person working outside the home to function working 12 hour days, six days a week.

Let’s look at the cooking task.  The work at the furnace was physically demanding, involving heavy lifting and other strenuous activity.  To be able to reliably perform this work over time, the men working at the furnace had to be incredibly strong, and to stay strong, they had to eat a lot of protein and good food. The women spent much of their time cooking to meet those needs.  We’ve seen estimates that a furnace worker, particularly one who worked in the casting shed, might burn an incredible 4000 calories per day, day after day, week after week, month after month.  That’s a whole lot of food to prepare, and in an age when there were no supermarkets, everything had to be cooked from scratch — and that’s a whole lot of work; a full-time job, in fact.

Maintaining the household meant more than running a vacuum around every few days — in fact, in those days, vacuum cleaners were only just being invented, and few families had one.  Running the household included pumping the water or getting it from a well or spring, washing clothes in a wash tub using a washboard and hanging them on a clothesline, sweeping (in the early days, with a homemade broom), and consider that modern detergents had not yet been invented — so most of the scrubbing was done with lye soap, which was — wait for this — also made by the woman of the house.

Raising the children was taking place in an era when babies were born yearly as modern family planning had not yet been invented.  This meant that the woman of the house was either pregnant or nursing a baby nearly 100% of the time — in addition to performing all of her other duties — which also included nursing anyone in the family who was ill, and in an age before antibiotics and when vaccines were very few, illness was commonplace.

Making and repairing clothes was necessary since money to spend on store-bought clothes was scarce.  The woman might buy some fabric at the company store and cut and sew the clothes for the family from it, or alter clothes that the older children had worn to fit the younger ones.  The men, doing hard manual labor all day, were also hard on clothes, requiring frequent sewing to patch of repair them.  Without sewing machines, this was hand sewing.

Operating small farms is something that surprises many visitors today.  The fact is that each of the worker houses looked much different back in the day.  In the first place, there would have been chickens roaming the yard, possibly a pig or a couple of sheep or goats, and in some lucky families, a cow living in the area right around the house.  What area wasn’t occupied by livestock would certainly have been used to grow vegetables to feed the family when fresh and to can or to put away for winter.  So there were animals to tend, eggs to gather, cows to milk, occasionally animals to slaughter and butcher, and hay to store up for winter for the animals and food to preserve and store for the winter for the people.

Arguably, the work the women performed was both harder and more demanding of special skills than the work the men did, and it certainly was not confined to a 12 hour day or a six day week.

Children (Girls) 

The girls, once they were old enough to help, did mostly the same things as their mothers. A wife could not be expected to cook for more than one man (and her family) by herself. But that left plenty to do around the house.  The girls were usually involved in the other tasks as well, although they usually helped their mothers with the cooking. With their mothers already overworked, the girls generally helped with laundry, cleaning, and maybe took on some cooking herself if her mother had too much to do.  There was also garden to tend, and some livestock to take care of.  Virtually all families had chickens, many had a hog or two, some had a milk cow.  Each of these creatures took time to feed and care for — and usually this fell to the girl children according to their abilities.

Additionally, as soon as a girl had younger siblings, much of the care of these babies and children fell to them, as the mother likely had another baby to nurse and care for in addition to her other duties.  Of course there was school, too, although in many of the years that Beckley Furnace was active, an 8th grade education was considered more than enough for anyone, particularly a female, and, in an age before extracurricular activities, there were few distractions from the work at home for most girls.  Housework was more important than homework.

One unfortunate fact is that we have very little in the way of documents about the roles of females, and most of what we do know is second hand — someone, usually a man, mentioning what the women might have been doing. The rest? Well, we have had to examine the evidence and draw conclusions.  Women who were well educated enough to keep diaries likely were also members of families wealthy enough to have domestic servants, and thus did not have the work experience of the women who supported the workers at Beckley Furnace.

Also, it’s important to remember that while this may have been the life of females around a blast furnace, roles for women differed widely on the basis of their husband’s work. An ironmaster’s wife might have been expected to take an interest in the families of the furnace workers and offer hospitality when the big shots from Lime Rock visited. At a foundry, like the foundry Barnum and Richardson ran in Lime Rock, there would likely be a whole middle class made up of molders and other skilled trades, and the roles of women there might have been different, too. And finally, there were the few women who were married to the executives and the owners — and their lives were still different, but still demanding in their own ways.

Finally, this was an age when most middle class and all upper class families had household servants, most of whom were women, so their lives would have been different as well.  The families of workers at Beckley Furnace would not have had household servants, however.

We’ll explore those roles in future posts…..

 

 

 

New Videos Coming!

The feedback we receive from visitors, as well as our own experience, tells us that while words are necessary, and photos are great to have, nothing conveys a message quite like a video.  Our two youngest board members, Christian Allyn and Eleanore Jenks, have decided to take advantage of this and to create some more videos for the site.

UPDATE!!

See the video Christian and Eleanore made about slag!  Go see that right now!!

About Christian

Christian, as many visitors know, is our main docent for the summers.  He’s a student at UConn, and as well being an expert on the Beckley Furnace site, has a family background that includes quarries that produced some of the limestone that fed Beckley Furnace, back in the day, and still produces limestone up the hill on the other side of Route 44.

He’s known about Beckleychristian2015 Furnace as long as he can remember, and has been a key member of  our summer staff for the past four summers.  Did we say that he knows a lot about Beckley Furnace and the iron industry?  Well, he definitely does!

He also has some expertise that none of the rest of us at Beckley has:  he knows about plants — in fact, his majors at UConn are in that area, and during his years at Housatonic Valley Regional High School (where he also volunteers in developing the school archives) he was particularly active in FFA.

For many of the videos planned as well as two that are already “in the can,” Chris is (usually) the presenter and tells us what we need to know.

About Eleanore

Eleanore, our youngest and newest board member, is still in high school in New York City.  Her ties directly to Beckley, while nowhere as lengthy as Chris’ ties, are still substantial.  In fact, you would not be reading this material if it were not for Elli and her hard work and creativity, because she was the designer and builder of the Beckley Furnace website, and doElli2015es most of the maintenance on the site as well.   The welcome video for this site was her work, all the way from the filming, to the voiceover, to the music, to the post processing.

Elli’s family background includes some significant portions of heavy industry as well.  A likely distant ancestor was a major player in the Saugus Iron Works in Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1600s, and more recently another ancestor held a patent on making cinder blocks (which, like the products of the New England Slag Company, another East Canaan Barnum and Richardson business, are a repurposed industrial waste product).  And just as Chris lives within a stone’s throw from a limestone quarry, Eleanore lives a stone’s throw from the site of one of the 26 blast furnaces that once dotted the Salisbury Iron District, of which, of course, Beckley Furnace was one.

As you might have guessed from her work on the website, Elli is mostly (but not entirely) involved in the videography of this new video series.

What’s coming next?

As well as the upcoming videos, there’s another project the two have in mind.  It’s something that all smartphone users will appreciate.  They are planning a series of QR codes posted around the Beckley site that people with smartphones will be able to click on and be connected automatically to material on this website about the items in the area where the QR code in question is posted.  It’s not economically possible to create permanent signs for many aspects of the Beckley Furnace complex, and we think that the use of QR codes will help us provide information to visitors quickly and economically.  We’re thinking about the slag pile and the Leffel Turbine as likely candidates for QR codes of their own, but there will certainly be others.

So, thanks to Christian and Eleanore!!!

 

Long Range Plan and Progress

A long-range planning committee has been created at Beckley Furnace! The committee has had one meeting and already there are new ideas being considered. One of them is an animated diorama of the site. In this context, “animated” means we will have lights and moving characters. A video projection to show how the site was a part of the iron industry in the upper Housatonic Valley is also being considered. The board will be considering these ideas at their meeting on August 14th.

In other news, school kids from Lake Oswego, Oregon have enjoyed the welcome video from this site, which shows that our goals of this being in schools is slowly starting to work.

Look for more progress coming soon at Beckley Furnace!

Tariffs – and Beckley Furnace

Beckley Furnace made pig iron, way up in East Canaan, CT, right?

What could that possibly have to do with international trade and tariffs?

As it turns out, a fair amount!

You’ll recall that Beckley Furnace was owned for most of its useful life by the Barnum and Richardson Company.  They used the output of Beckley largely to manufacture railroad car wheels at their Lime Rock foundries.  Barnum and Richardson also effectively used a marketing technique called “product differentiation” to make its pig iron and its railroad car wheels different from the pig iron and railroad car wheels manufactured by others at that time.

“Salisbury iron” was advertised to be different from other iron — so much so that Barnum and Richardson named their iron mine in Michigan the “Salisbury Mine” even though it was mining an entirely different kind of iron ore for use in their Chicago wheel foundry just to permit them to attach a shred of honesty to their claim that all their car wheels were indeed made of “Salisbury ore”.  (Since Beckley used almost entirely ore from the Ore Hill mine and another mine in the Township of Salisbury, calling it “Salisbury ore” was not a problem for the Beckley output — it was this other ore from Michigan that required a little bit of poetic license.

Back to the tariff:

Senator Barnum, a principal of Barnum and Richardson, was politically a Democrat, and in business terms a robber baron.  He was disposed — both for his own economic interests and politically — to favor high tariffs on imports, especially imported pig iron and railroad car wheels, and for the most part high tariffs were in effect during this period.

Then along came a new Democratic presidential candidate, Grover Cleveland — and Senator Barnum, in his role has Chair of the National Democratic Committee, was expected to support the candidate’s policies, which happened to favor low tariffs.  Senator Barnum, a good party man, swallowed his pride, subordinated his economic interests, sucked in, and supported the Democratic platform, upon which Grover Cleveland was elected President of the United States.

Where was the payoff for Senator Barnum?

Well, when Barnum died in 1889, during the four years that elapsed between the two terms that Cleveland served as President, Cleveland attended Barnum’s funeral at Trinity Church in Lime Rock.  It was, presumably, a duty call — the press of the day reported that Mr. Cleveland left immediately following the services.

It would be an interesting exercise to track Beckley Furnace production against various tariff schemes in effect during the years it was functioning, and perhaps someone will eventually do that.

However, it is reasonably clear that export of Barnum and Richardson railroad car wheels, particularly to Latin America, continued strong through most of this period.  It was said that as recently as 1975 Barnum and Richardson car wheels were still turning on railroads in Latin America — perhaps the last continent in which they were still in use.

Henrico Coal Company

The Barnum and Richardson Company has been mentioned many times on this website already, and for good reason:  Barnum & Richardson owned Beckley Furnace for most of its useful life.  There’s a lot more to be said about the Barnums and Richardsons, however, and particularly the Barnum family.

US Senator William H. Barnum was not only a principal of Barnum & Richardson, he was an entrepreneur in a golden age for entrepreneurs — so much was it a golden age for entrepreneurs that it is known today as the Gilded Age, and the entrepreneurs were known as robber barons.

Here’s a historic document.  It’s from the papers of the Henrico Coal Company (in Richmond, Virginia) showing both Senator Barnum and his son, William Milo Barnum, a New York City attorney, as officers of that company.

Another Barnum venture, Henrico Coal Company
Another Barnum venture, Henrico Coal Company

(You can see this as a larger PDF file by clicking 51038)

The source of this document is a microfilm of a portion of the papers of William M. Barnum in the Library of the University of Washington — located in the Library of Virginia, in Richmond, VA.  Interestingly, another company’s records also appear on that microfilm, the minutes book of the Kanawha Improvement Company (1887-1890), which was actually a railroad company in West Virginia.

We’ll be documenting more of these outside connections in future posts.

Making the Welcome video

Here’s how the Welcome video was made…

The Girl Scouts who redid this website for their Silver Awards felt strongly that every website deserves a welcome video — so they made one for us!  (You can find and watch it on the Welcome page).  Eleanore took the lead on this part of the project since she has an interest in videography and had made several videos already.

Shooting video
Here’s Eleanore, the Girl Scout who was in charge of the Welcome video

The first step was planning — including a site visit to shoot some trial footage.  First problem:  the roar of the waterfall made the possibility of live audio to accompany the video a doubtful proposition.  Solution:  a two-part one — first, a musical soundtrack, and second, voiceover narration.

Where to get a musical background?  Well, there is lots of “music by the yard” available for purchase, so the girls had that option.  However, Eleanore listened to some of it, decided that there was no reason to buy it when she could make it herself, so she did.  The piano accompaniment for the video is 100% Eleanore’s work.

Filming the members

Helen captures Eleanore capturing some of the Friends of Beckley Furnace talking

 

Helen, the other Girl Scout, wasn’t idle on this phase.  It’s often useful to have some still photos to intersperse with the video segments, and Helen was in charge of capturing the necessary stills — as well as finding herself the subject of a bit of continuity that appears in the finished video.  Below you see her from a “frame grab” in the finished video (she was using the still camera, so to get a photo of her we had to grab a frame from the video).  She was also pretty much everywhere making sure people were where they were supposed to be for the camera.

Helen frame grab
Helen, the still photographer, also provided continuity

We mentioned earlier that we needed to dub audio tracks.  Well, the musical part was already taken care of, but there was still the voice-over to record.  After some discussion, the girls decided that Eleanore could do this part too.  They worked on the script, and finally it was time for Eleanore to face the microphone and record it.

Voiceover recording
Eleanore recording the voice-over for the Welcome video

Now all the pieces were ready.  The raw video itself was in the can, as they say.  The music was composed and recorded.  The stills to be interspersed in the video were ready to be used.  The voice-over track to match with the video track had been recorded and the best parts selected.

If you’ve ever had any contact with videography, movie-making, or even home movies to show to friends, you know that the hardest work is not holding the camera, or being in front of it.  The hardest part, and the most time-consuming part, is the part spent in what the video pros call “post” — which stands for post-production, which is basically editing the video and making it into a coherent movie.

It tends to be pretty solitary work, except for periodically showing problematic parts around and asking for ideas.  But post was ultimately Eleanore’s responsibility to do.

Welcome video post-processing
Eleanore, seen hard at work in post-processing of the Welcome video

You can see the finished product on our Hello page, and we hope you will take a look at it and recognize all the parts that make it up and appreciate the effort that the girls put into it.

The girls would like to extend special thanks to the adults who appeared in the video and who supported its production, particularly Christian Allyn and Dick Paddock.

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