What and Where was the Casting Shed?

Where (and what) was the casting shed?

(this post came from the old website, with a few modifications) barnum_and_richardson_small 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): Beckley_Furnace_old (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.

Casting shed outline 001_web_front

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.)

Casting shed outline 006web_front

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).

Casting shed outline 014_web_front

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).

Casting shed outline 015_web_front

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?

A Different Angle…

Looking at things from a different angle…

We’re always looking for better ways to help visitors understand how Beckley Furnace worked.  Fact is that few of our visitors are intimately familiar with the process of making iron ore into pig iron, and putting all the pieces together can be a little problematical.  And, unfortunately, some pieces of the puzzle of just how the entire furnace worked are missing.  Sometimes, we’ve found, looking at things from a different angle can help with this.


As it turns out, Dick Paddock and Christian Allyn, two members of the Friends of Beckley Furnace, have recently been experimenting with our version of a drone — actually, a little remote controlled helicopter that can carry a camera — as a way to explain things better.

The photo above is one of their early efforts — this one, about 60 feet in the air, looking down at the casting arch.  You can see a portion of the exterior wall of the building in which the furnace was located on the left and right of the stack (and see the remainder of the outline of the casting house outlined in limestone elsewhere on this site.)

We think that viewing things from above suggests a lot of possibilities, such as showing the spatial relationship between the  turbine location and the furnace — and even the slag heap — in a single photo.  Stay tuned!  We’ll have more!!

And thanks to Dick and Chris for making this happen!

Missing Pieces

The Missing Pieces…

Ever wonder if there was anything at the furnace when it was running and is not there today? Well there definitely are some “missing pieces”.  Several of them were essential to making iron.  Just what were these Missing Pieces?

Essential missing pieces:

1. There used to be a bridge running from the top of the furnace to the brick wall across it. That’s how they would get iron ore, charcoal, and limestone to the furnace.

2. There used to be a building behind the furnace where air was heated before being forced into the furnace.  Sometimes it’s called the stove.

3.  There used to be a big pipe that ran down the back of the furnace and into the stove.  This pipe captured hot gasses, largely carbon monoxide, at the top of the stack and recycled them into the hot air mix.

4.  There used to be “blowing tubs” up near where the turbine is housed now.  These devices, really two large wooden barrels about 6 feet in diameter, were powered by the turbine and compressed air, forcing it down to the stove to be heated and forced into the furnace.  The blowing tubs were the air compressor of those times.

5. There used to be a pipe or other kind of air container that ran from the blowing tubs to the stove.  It carried the compressed air to be heated and forced into the furnace.

6.  The furnace itself used to be in a building called the “casting shed”.  This building, with a sand floor, was where the slag and molten iron ran out of the hearth (when it was tapped, of course) into molds in the floor of the furnace where the molten iron cooled and hardened into “pigs” of cast iron.

Outside the basic set-up (but still important):

1. Above the charging wall was a network of sheds for storage of charcoal, limestone, and iron ore to be added to the furnace when needed.

2. Also above the charging wall were railroad tracks that connected to the Central New England Railroad, which ran through East Canaan.  Rail was the most efficient way to bring in charcoal (from as far away as Vermont), iron ore (from Salisbury and Lakeville), and whatever else was needed for the operation of the furnace.  (We think that the limestone came mostly from the quarry further down Lower Road).

3. A company store would have been an important feature of an iron refining community as large as East Canaan was, with three working blast furnaces.

4. Housing for workers.  You can see some remaining Barnum & Richardson worker houses on the north side of Lower Road a short distance further along it.  They are private residences today.

5. HUGE slag piles (we’re told that massive slag piles covered most of the south bank of the Blackberry River — the slag pile that remains is substantial, but small compared with what once was there.

Other things:

1.  We know that there was a sawmill on site, located between the blowing tubs and the stove, where the Loeffel Turbine currently sits.  That’s what the Loeffel turbine was for: to power the sawmill.  Why a sawmill?  Well, that’s addressed in greater detail in the Loeffel turbine post, but one possibility is to saw the various exotic woods used in the iron business, such as the lignum vitae bearing on the turbine and the molds used for casting railroad car wheels.  This is an incomplete chapter in our research of Beckley Furnace.

Have you spotted anything else missing?  Let us know about it!!


What’s the gray thing ….

Just what is that gray thing in the shed, up near the dam?

It wasn’t there last year!


Well, you’re right.  We built the shelter for the gray thing over the winter, and we dedicated it this summer.  And the “gray thing” is NOT a bomb (as one visitor suggested) or a jet engine (which it also resembles both functionally and in appearance).  Instead, it’s a turbine.  A water-power turbine that was used for the final decades of Beckley Furnace’s active life to power the hot blast.  Actually, it’s one of two turbines at the Beckley site.  Read about the other turbine here.

The turbine has an interesting story, and we’ll be telling you more about it later on, but here are a few items you might find interesting right now:

–It was a “Hercules-type” turbine, of unknown manufacturer, probably installed when the dam was rebuilt in the 1870s.

–While it looks pretty massive on the display rack, it was considered a powerhouse for its day, generating (we think) about 80 hp.  (A nice thing about turbines — they can generate lots of power even when the water input is reduced due to drought.)

–This turbine had spend nearly 90 years buried in the mud in the pit where it operated.  It was evidently too heavy to be removed for scrap metal during the Second World War.

–After getting expert advice about how to conserve this rarity, we concluded that in order to preserve the interior we needed to cut a hole in the side.  Fortunately, that gives you a good view of the inner workings of the device.

–Yes, that wooden thing at the lower end of the turbine is just what it looks like: a washer.  It’s made of a tropical wood called lignum vitae that withstands the kinds of forces this turbine exerted, and to do it in water, too.

07-27-2014 silver 185_lignum_vitae