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.
(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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It’s big. It’s heavy. It’s rusty. And, unless you know that it’s a turbine, you might not recognize that it’s fundamentally the same technology as the gray machine displayed in the turbine house.
Both are turbines. And both operated at Beckley Furnace at more or less the same times.
While the turbine in the turbine shed powered the blowing tubs — the air compressors that provided the blast for Beckley Furnace — this turbine had a more mundane function: it powered a sawmill.
Fair question: why might there be a sawmill at a blast furnace site? After all, sawing wood and making pig iron would seem to be pretty much unrelated functions, right?
Here are some of the possible answers, and more than one could be correct:
There was a sawmill here because there was an opportunity to use water power twice — first, to power the blast for the blast furnace, and then, before returning it to the Blackberry River, to run this turbine to power a sawmill.
Wood needed to be sawed (or sawn, as they might have said a hundred years ago), and this was as good a place to do it as any. There was water power, there was a place to put the sawmill (between the blowing tubs and the stove that heated the blast), there were people around who knew about turbines. Wood was needed to build things — sheds, other structures — in the East Canaan works of Barnum and Richardson, or in greater East Canaan.
Wood played an important but often overlooked role in the iron industry. Different kinds of wood were used for very specific purposes. For example, in close-up photos of the main turbine, you’ll see a ring of wood near the bottom end. This was a special wood, lignum vitae, imported from Africa,that was very strong and did not deteriorate in water. This ring of wood — and what you see in the turbine today is over 100 years old, most of that time spend immersed in mud — served as the main bearing for the generator. Another example would be the wood patterns used to create the molds in which railroad car wheels were cast at the Barnum Richardson Company works in Lime Rock. This was another highly specialized wood. We think it’s possible that this sawmill did very specialized sawing of unusual woods needed at various parts of Barnum and Richardson’s iron making and fabrication process.
Why do YOU think there was a sawmill at Beckley Furnace?
What plans to you have for this turbine?
After all, it’s a shame to see it rust away!
Currently under discussion are ways to conserve the Loeffel turbine, as well as ways to display it. Some of the ideas currently under consideration include building a second turbine shed (like the one upstream) but more or less where this turbine is located. Also we’re considering the possibility of displaying it recessed in the ground, so that people can see how it might have been positioned to operate.
Visit the site and let us have your ideas — or send in your ideas on the form below!
But we agree — we really don’t want to see it rust away!
In fact, the water wheel was replaced with the turbine sometime around 1875, give or take 20 years — we lack records for the period — and the turbine was replaced by a steam engine around 1910.
But, people ask, where was the water wheel when it was running?
Here’s the easy way to tell.
Go to the turbine house. Look for the yellow safety tape (soon to be replaced with safety fencing).
The pit on the other side of the safety tape was the wheel pit in which the wheel turned.
If you’d like more information about what kind of water wheel was used, understand first that there were three basic types of water wheels:
The overshot wheel, when the water was run into the wheel at the top. Generally these were the most powerful wheels, but you needed quite a drop in the water level to power one that was of the size of the wheel at Beckley.
The undershot wheel, when only the bottom of the wheel was in the wheel race (where the water ran) (this was the least powerful type of water wheel).
The breast wheel, where the water was directed at the wheel right about the middle of it. A hybrid of the undershot and overshot wheels, it was quite effective, but did not require the “head” that the overshot wheel needed.
At Beckley, as far as we have been able to determine from the records, a breast wheel was always used.
While Beckley is mainly the state’s Industrial Monument…
it’s also a park, and there are definitely park-like aspects to the place.
There are, for example, four picnic tables — and not so close to each other that one feels one is in a cafeteria. Here’s one at the top of the dam:
There are two picnic tables in front of the furnace itself, in the area that once was the casting shed, and another on the lawn overlooking the new turbine house.
This section of the Blackberry River is also popular with anglers. Frequently there are furnace site tours going on at the same time that people are actively fishing in the Blackberry just a few feet away.
Just on the other side of this wall, in fact:
Occasionally families take a dip in the pool below the dam — but the water is pretty cold, and there’s no lifeguard on duty.
However, it’s not always necessary to be doing something active. Beckley today offers something that it most assuredly it did NOT offer back in the day when it was an active iron blast furnace, with all the noise, bustle, and confusion that accompanied it. With the waterfall as background noise, the Beckley Furnace site is also a place to be contemplative — to be alone with your thoughts…
What you will NOT find at Beckley Furnace:
Yes, Beckley is a State Park. However, please be aware that:
there are no public rest rooms at the facility
mentioned above but worth saying again: there are no lifeguards on duty
while there is a good cellphone signal at the site, there are no public phones
during most hours there are no rangers or other park personnel on duty
BUT there are no admission fees or other charges for visiting the facility!
in order for it to operate. In modern hydroelectric facilities today, one sees penstocks — huge iron or steel tubes that carry the water from the dam to the turbine. There is still a penstock at Beckley Furnace, although it’s no longer operating:
In the photo, you can see holes in the dam where this penstock connected — or did it? Research — and old photographs — reveal that the penstock did NOT connect directly to the dam!
Instead, it connected to a wooden water chest that was mounted on the face of the dam. (the water chest is long gone, and was long gone before the dam was reconstructed a few years ago). While we don’t know exactly why the water chest was used, we suspect that it had to do with further controlling the flow of the water. While there was a valve on the dam to control the flow through the pipe that ultimately fed the penstock, we think that possibly both holes in the dam could have fed the water chest, thus providing the ability to fill it more rapidly.
Different kinds of problems at a blast furnace leave different kinds of evidence. Two of them — related, but not the same thing by far — are called by the imaginative names of furnace bear and salamander.
What was a furnace bear?
In the smelting process, occasionally a glob of molten iron would adhere to the inside of the stack. There were ways to deal with the problem when one was detected (they involved men at the top, trying to pry the glob loose from the inside of the stack using 40 foot long iron poles — hazardous and difficult work). However, they didn’t always work, and sometimes the glob hardened and was removed when the furnace was next shut down.
Here’s a furnace bear that was at some time removed from the stack at Beckley. Does this look like a bear climbing a tree to you? It did to the people who worked at the furnace over a century ago!
And how’s that different from a salamander?
Well, if you think of a salamander as the whole hearth of the furnace turning into a congealed disk of iron, unmelted ingredients, and a few bricks from the hearth itself, you would be pretty much correct.
They tended to happen on two different kinds of situations. First, when a furnace was shut down for major maintenance. There was always likely to be some molten iron left in the bottom of the furnace that solidified and created a salamander. The second case was more serious. It occurred when there was a failure somewhere in the smelting process and a whole mass of iron, unmelted/unburned ingredients, and pieces of the furnace floor and wall, congealed into a solid mass.
Here’s a particularly ugly one. We’re told that the furnace had to be partially disassembled to remove a salamander, and that it would take several teams of oxen to pull it out.
No, it doesn’t look like any salamander we’ve ever seen, but evidently it did to the furnace workers of a century and more ago!
The following story appeared in The Lakeville Journal of September 4, 2014, and is reproduced here with permission. See our earlier post about using a drone to explore the Beckley Furnace site from an aerial view.
photo by Shawn Takatsu
By Darryl Gangloff
LAKEVILLE — Technology and history collided last month when area historian Dick
Paddock attempted to use a tiny drone to inspect the skylight and furnace stack
of Beckley Furnace in East Canaan.
“A 40-foot ladder won’t reach the top of the furnace, and we didn’t want to
build scaffolding,” Paddock said. “I had seen these drones online and thought
they might be able to fly up the flue. That would be a quick, inexpensive
Paddock purchased a remote-controlled Blade 180 QX HD quadcopter (named for its
four rotors) for approximately $180. It included a camera that can take both
photos and videos.
He discovered on Aug. 16 that the drone could indeed fly up the flue, but was
unable to take photos due to poor lighting. He then sent the quadcopter soaring
toward the skylight, only to have a gust of wind flip the device onto Beckley
With the drone stuck out of reach, Paddock went to the Buy Local trade festival
at The Hotchkiss School on Aug. 17 and told Visionary Computer owner David
Maffucci of his plight. Maffucci mentioned that Shawn Takatsu, an Apple
certified support professional at Visionary Computer, flies quadcopters as a
“I’ve been flying RC copters for number of years,” Takatsu said in a phone this
week interview. “I saw a video of a GoPro camera attached to one of these
quadcopters and thought it could take my hobby a bit further.”
Takatsu’s large DJI quadcopter dwarfs Paddock’s drone. It costs around $2,500
with modifications and has a legal range of 400 feet high and 1,000 feet out in
line of sight.
“I told Dick that I’d love to help,” Takatsu said. “What a great cause!”
Takatsu was able to use the wind from his massive rotors to safely blow
Paddock’s drone off the roof on Aug. 24.
“There was a little damage, but it’s easy to fix,” Paddock said. “It will fly
again. The camera is serviceable. It was a successful rescue.”
While he was at Beckley Furnace, Takatsu used his quadcopter to take some aerial
shots that included photos of the skylight and the entire park.
“We got a good outline of the whole site thanks to Shawn,” Paddock said. “We’ve
never had a picture before that shows the entire span of the industrial
Paddock plans to send his small drone up the flue again now that he’s worked out
the lighting problem. He said all of this information will go in the record of
the Beckley Furnace, and inspections will continue on a regular basis.
As for anyone who may be interested in flying drones, Takatsu said they can be
found online for as cheap as $30, or go as high as $20,000 for massive
Takatsu’s quadcopter photography services are available to hire through his
Northwest Connecticut Aerial Photography website, www.nwaphoto.net.
The simple answer is that iron ore, charcoal, and limestone were dumped into the top of the furnace, but there’s more to it than that.
The way it got to the top of the furnace was via a bridge that ran from the top of the furnace across Lower Road to the top of the “charging wall”
The charging wall the high stone wall you see on the north side of the road, across from the furnace. Workers pushed wheelbarrows of iron ore, of charcoal, and of limestone across that bridge to the furnace.
(Here’s a photo of a charcoal cart — it could hold a lot of charcoal. The carts for limestone and iron ore were smaller because limestone and iron ore are heavier.)
You can see the bridge in this photo — it’s one of the missing links in the reconstructed furnace. It was enclosed (to keep the charcoal, iron ore, and limestone dry, not to mention the walkway where the men wheeled the wheelbarrows) and you can see it running from the charcoal sheds in the upper left to the top of the furnace on the right.
Before they could dump it in, the blast had to be stopped briefly — and when that was done, the workers had to hustle to get the wheelbarrows dumped before the blast restarted. If the blast was stopped for too long, the liquid iron and slag already in the furnace would solidify. If the blast wasn’t stopped long enough, the workers with the wheelbarrows could have been asphyxiated by the carbon monoxide from the furnace forced into the room where they were dumping their wheelbarrows.
Something to think about: Today we have machines that handle feeding blast furnaces, usually operating under computer control. Yet at Beckley Furnace people did that job using wheelbarrows. What might have caused the change in methods over the years? What have been some of the effects of this kind of change?
(this post came from the old website, with a few modifications) A question we’re frequently asked (not as frequently as we’re asked “What was this place, anyway?” but still pretty frequently) concerns the place of the blast furnace in the overall scheme of things at Beckley. After all, there’s this magnificent stone column standing there, and somehow it looks more like a work of Neolithic sculpture than an industrial artifact. So, we don’t blame people for being a little disoriented and confused! One of our most important tasks as Friends of Beckley Furnace is to “interpret” what you see there — to make it comprehensible. Toward that end, since the stone column at Beckley Furnace was the furnace itself, and the furnace was only a part of a much larger industrial facility, we’ve started making it easier to understand that the furnace was actually located in a long-vanished building called the casting shed. As well as containing the furnace itself, the casting shed also was the place where the molten iron was drawn from the furnace into impressions in a bed of casting sand, making the familiar sow-and-piglet pattern, which gave rise to the term “pig iron”. To start with, here’s a photograph of Beckley Furnace in operation around 1896 (before the fire of 1896): (the source of the image is “Scrap Book of North Canaan”)
In the lower right corner of the picture, you will see the casting shed, the building with the curved roof. Running horizontally across the middle of the picture is the passageway used to transport the charcoal, iron ore, and limestone from the top of the charging wall (at extreme left, to the left of Lower Road) to the top of the furnace.
Now, how to relate that to what you see at Beckley Furnace today: You’ll see that we have outlined the foundation of the casting shed you see in the picture above with limestone.
The gap in the outline is where the casting shed door you see in the picture above was located. (This photo is looking down on the casting shed’s western wall. The furnace is off screen to your left. The white limestone shows where the walls of the casting shed once stood.)
In this photo, we’ve backed up a bit from the one above. (Note that the chain link fence that protected the furnace stack during restoration is no longer present today).
This photo is looking westward, from the ruins of the boiler house. The furnace appears on your right in the photo, and Blackberry River is off screen to your left (once again, that chain link fence isn’t there anymore).
Looking northward, toward the remains of the north wall of the casting house (and where we took the first photo in this set)
So, that outlines where the casting shed was!!
Why do you suppose they put the furnace in a building to begin with? Well, one important reason was to protect the molten iron from rain or snow. Have you ever seen what happens when a few drops of water land in a very hot frying pan? Now, remember that the molten iron was far hotter than the hottest frying pan….what might have happened?