about Beckley Furnace and the iron industry of the Upper Housatonic Valley
A fact of life about industrial archaeology — the academic discipline that studies bygone industries — is that archival material is apt to be scarce and sometimes downright scanty.
Something to think about: Why would people be less apt to save documentary information about industry than about genealogy, or military history, or politics, or many other topics?
Furthermore, it’s also a fact of life that there’s no assurance that whatever archival material exists is located anywhere near the site that it’s about! And this is the case with Beckley Furnace, too.
Also, material about Beckley Furnace (or any other topic) may be found buried in material about related topics.
Here’s are some archives to consider that are open to the public. For detailed information about them, click the links — the summaries are generally quite exhaustive and give an excellent sense of what kind of papers they contain:
- First off, if you’re not already familiar with it, view the bibliography in Ed Kirby’s Echoes of Iron (1998, published by the Sharon Historical Society). Ed’s comprehensive knowledge of the Upper Housatonic Valley iron industry came from many places, and this multi-page bibliography represents his best effort at a compilation of them. To say they are varied understates the case. Not to be missed!! What we show on this page is a brief subset of Ed’s compilation.
- The collected papers of the granddaughter of John Adam Beckley (Clara Beckley) Papers. These are in the archives of the CT Historical Society in Hartford. John Adam Beckley was the man who had the furnace built, so this may be an opportunity to learn things about the days when the furnace was being constructed. The collection all fits into one document box — in other words, it’s not voluminous. (We have an update on this from Ed Kirby who visited the archive and examined the contents. First of all, it’s not one box, it’s two. Secondly, there is little material about the Beckley Furnace in East Canaan — considerably more about the furnace that Beckley built in Chatham NY. Bottom line: if you’re doing a detailed study, you probably need to check this at some point. But don’t make a special trip out of it. Thanks, Ed!!)
- Also at the CT Historical Society (see above): Barnum Richardson Co. account books, 1872 – 1892. These are important years for both Beckley Furnace and for Barnum and Richardson. Account books are not the most interesting reading, but in them are clues that can lead to major breakthroughs in understanding of how the company operated.
- The papers of the Barnum & Richardson Company (the owners of Beckley Furnace for most of its active life) are located in the Dodd Center at the University of Connecticut’s main campus in Storrs, CT. There are almost 13 linear feet of records in this collection! Particularly interesting about this collection is the number of homes that it’s had: Harvard, Yale, now UConn.
- The collections of the Falls Village/Canaan Historical Society. This historical society serves the town of Canaan (where Falls Village is) as well as the town of North Canaan (where Beckley Furnace is). They have items that no one else will have, and are very helpful to visitors. Make it a point to emphasize your interest in Beckley Furnace when you visit. Remember that the hours this facility is open are very limited and confirm that they are open before you visit. At this time, while renovations to their museum are in progress, they are open only by appointment. Note that much Lime Rock history is found in this collection instead of the seemingly more logical Salisbury Association due to the geographic proximity of Lime Rock to Falls Village as well as historic family alliances/antipathies.
- The collections of the Salisbury Association. For information about their archives and to arrange access to them you should contact the organization. It may be worth considering that the Salisbury Association was founded by the Holley family, the previous generation of iron industry leaders locally to the Barnums and Richardsons, and there’s evidence that there was little love lost between the two families.
- Collections of other historical societies in the area. If there was a Barnum and Richardson facility in a particular town, the chances are that the local historical society has material that applies not only to the local facility but also to the larger Barnum and Richardson organization. Notable in this regard are the Sharon Historical Society and the Cornwall Historical Society. Note that material in these societies may be cataloged under the name of the local subsidiary, which frequently does not include Barnum and Richardson in its name.
- Extensive archival material on the Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company, in Northern Michigan, is available at Northern Michigan University. The connection here is that Senator Barnum was also General Manager of this iron mining (notably at the Salisbury Mine) and smelting operation at the same time Beckley Furnace was operating, and it is likely that ore from this mine was used in Barnum and Richardson’s Chicago works to fabricate car wheels made of “Salisbury Iron”.
- The Ensign Car Company, of West Virginia, an antecedent of ACF Industries (formerly American Car and Foundry) was not a Barnum and Richardson property, but it was founded under the direction of William H. Barnum by one of his Lime Rock neighbors and he exercised considerable control over it. The archives of this company can be found in the John W. Barringer III National Railroad Collection at the University of Missouri at St. Louis. Associated with the Ensign Car Company was the Kanawha Development Company, a venture of Senator Barnum and his son William, with others.
- A box of Barnum and Richardson Company materials can be found in the Warshaw Collection of Business Americana in the Smithsonian Institution. We’re so far not aware of the nature of these contents.
- The papers of William Milo Barnum, son of William H. Barnum, who became a Wall Street lawyer and businessman and who was active in the management of many companies nationwide with affiliations with the Barnum family (and Barnum and Richardson), are in the special collections of the University of Washington. The description of this particular archive is here. Some of these, pertaining to the Henrico Coal Company and the Kanawha Development Company, are available on microfilm at other institutions.
Other archives are not open to the public and generally require significant advance arrangements for viewing. Some applicable to Beckley Furnace include the following:
- Material stored at Beckley Furnace. This includes artifacts (such as an ornate bookcase from the Barnum and Richardson headquarters building in Lime Rock), examples of iron ore, charcoal, limestone, iron pigs, etc., as well as some paper materials. A detailed listing of these archives will eventually make it way to this website. Access can be arranged via any member of the Friends of Beckley Furnace.
- Material stored in the North Canaan town vault. Access to this material requires both a Director of the Friends of Beckley Furnace as well as the North Canaan town clerk. We hope to digitize this material in the future and make it available on this website.
- Material in the possession of members of the Friends of Beckley Furnace. Generally this is viewed by invitation in the homes of the individual members. We hope to digitize some of this material and make it available on this website.
When you use an archive…
it’s a bit different from going to a library and either finding a book on the open shelves or looking one up in the library catalog and having it brought from the collection for you to read. While archives have their own rules — and every archive is different — there are some things they tend to have in common that you need to know before you visit.
- Generally the material you’ll be seeing is original — there are not likely to be any copies available, the paper may be very fragile, and the writing is apt to be difficult to read. Care is essential. If you damage the copy you’re looking at, the document may be lost forever.
- You’re likely to have to show photo ID to even get into the archive, especially in large archives. Often, you’ll be very limited in what you can bring into the room where you view the archives. You may have to put most of your stuff in a locker, and you likely will not be allowed to use a pen when taking notes. You may or may not be allowed to make photocopies, and if you are, expect to pay at least $.25 per page. You may or may not be permitted to take digital photos of the original documents. There are likely to be additional rules as well — some archives require that you wear white cotton gloves while examining original documents!
- Likely you’ll have to fill out a call slip for the archival material you want to see, especially in large archives. Someone will located it in the stacks and bring it to your table. This may take several minutes.
- In small archives and historical societies you will likely find a helpful person on duty — when the collection is open. Usually this is a volunteer, and frequently has other tasks to do while you are visiting. Some volunteers will know the collection better than others, and what one volunteer is happy to permit you to do may be viewed as a serious problem by another volunteer in the same facility the next day.
- Even if there is no admission charge to the archive, it’s good form to make a donation. In most cases, archives survive on donations — even large state archives are usually squeezed in terms of governmental support.
Archives of a different sort…
We’re actively working to inventory our own archives. During the few decades that the Friends of Beckley Furnace has been an entity, a fair amount of primary source material has come into our possession. Some is kept in the Administration Building at the Furnace. Some is in the vault of the Town of North Canaan. And some is in the possession of individual members. We’re working currently on cataloging what we’ve got and where it’s kept. You’ll be seeing more about that in future months.
Archives we would love to locate:
Where are the papers of US Senator William H. Barnum? The son of Milo Barnum and brother in law of Leonard Richardson, William Barnum put his stamp on the Barnum Richardson Companies (there were many subsidiaries and affiliates) until his death in 1889. Under Senator Barnum, in fact, the East Canaan works were developed. The really peculiar thing here is that despite the man having been a State Representative, a Representative in Congress, a US Senator, and the longest-serving ever Chair of the Democratic National Committee, not to mention a captain of industry (Barnum and Richardson and affiliates were far from his only business interests), he seems to have left very little behind in the way of a paper trail. His papers should be in an archive somewhere. We cannot find them. Somewhere along the line he should have attracted a biographer. We cannot locate a biography of him of any length or substance. Considering his considerable stature in the political world in his lifetime, his archival record in the Library of Congress is disappointing in the extreme. We are always looking for more information about him, and about his sons, Charles W. and William M., both historical figures in their own rights.
Can you help us?