Useful References for Beckley Furnace and iron industry material

Information about Beckley Furnace and the historic iron industry of the upper Housatonic Valley can be found in many sources of all kinds. But if you’re studying the topic, or you’re really interested in pursuing it, you want to know where to find references for Beckley Furnace and the iron industry.   To help you get started, here’s a sampling of some of the sources we’ve uncovered to date. Some will require a trip to the library or an online search, but where possible we have provided links to the material so you can see it online.  We continually add to and refine this list, so check back frequently.  Do let us know of your suggestions for this list, too.

One such suggestion we’re received is that we categorize the list — for example,  to separate the archival material from the books from the web links.  We’ll probably be doing that soon. But for right now, bear with us and check the whole list out.

Another suggestion — and we’ve taken this one — was to expand references beyond the Upper Housatonic area, particularly when the reference contains information for which we’ve not yet located a counterpart in our area.


(Just a hint: over the years, resources about Beckley and the local iron industry have become more available — scroll down this list and you’ll find some videos you can view right now, right here!)

1. Various archives.  They’re really a whole special class of material about this topic, so we’re covering them on a separate page.

2. Website: Chronology of Beckley Furnace (this is found on the website of an area business, Between the Lakes Group).

3. Website:  The Barnum Family (this is also on the Between the Lakes Group website)

4. Website: History of Trinity Lime Rock (this is the history page from the website of a church that Barnum & Richardson Company built for the owning families and their workers who lived in Lime Rock).  Interestingly, the Rector of Trinity (sometimes called “the church that iron built”)  preached about William H. Barnum in August 2014.  Read her sermon on the Trinity website.

4. Three really good books:  “American Iron 1607 – 1900” by Robert B. Gordon (Johns Hopkins University Press).  (Dr. Gordon is a professor at Yale University.  “Echoes of Iron in Connecticut’s Northwest Corner” by the late Ed Kirby (published by Sharon Historical Society).  Ed was president of the Friends of Beckley Furnace.  Also: “A Landscape Transformed: the Ironmaking District of Salisbury, Connecticut”, also by Robert B. Gordon (Oxford University Press).

5. A book by someone with close family ties to Beckley Furnace:  “History of Iron Making, principally in East Canaan, Connecticut” by the late Walter L. Michaels, published by  Walt was the grandson of the last ironmaster of Beckley Furnace and was an active member of the Friends of Beckley Furnace.

6. More about the geology?  Read “Exploring the Berkshire Hills — a guide to the geology and early industry in the upper Housatonic watershed” also by Ed Kirby, published by Valley Geology Publications. (This one is sometimes difficult to find — some local libraries have it, but most should be able to find it for you on interlibrary loan.)

7. In the organization of the Connecticut State Government, Beckley Furnace Industrial Monument falls under DEEP (the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection).  Visit the DEEP web page about Beckley!

8. Certainly a resource is a paper written by Richard Paddock, President of the Friends of Beckley Furnace, about the fire of 1896 and its aftermath.  It’s available on this website; simply click The Fire of 1896 to read it.

9. The Upper Housatonic Iron area was far from the earliest iron area in what became the United States.  In terms of iron ventures that actually produced a measurable amount of iron (and probably even more litigation) was the enterprise on the Saugus River in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the first half of the 17th century.  The best book we’ve seen on that operation (or debacle) is E. N. Hartley’s “Iron Works on the Saugus”, published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 1957.  Hartley was a professor of history at MIT.  Paperback reprints are available from  Tip of the hat to Bill Jenks for this suggestion!!

10. Staffing iron furnaces is always a topic of interest.  Buffalo Forge, in Virginia, was operated largely by slave labor, and very extensive records have survived.  Charles B. Dew’s “Bond of Iron:  Master and Slave at Buffalo Forge”  (W. W. Norton & Company, 1994) is considered definitive on the subject. Your local library can probably find you a copy via interlibrary loan.

11.  You may find that our video about slag (the main byproduct of iron smelting) is interesting.  View it here.

12. One member of our Board of Directors, Abigail Adam, is a grad student in American History at James Madison University. Perhaps because she was for several years a Summer docent at Beckley Furnace, or perhaps because her own family was important in the iron history of the area, Abby has been doing significant research in several aspects of iron history. This project of hers, recently completed, provides a comprehensive overview of the iron industry in pre-Revolutionary times and during that war. The presentation also offers links to highly useful primary sources. NEW and highly recommended!
View it HERE.

13. Our President, Richard Paddock, recently have a talk on the impact of 200 years of the iron industry on the Town of Salisbury, just one township to our west.  Not surprisingly, there’s a whole lot of information in that talk that applies in a big way to Beckley Furnace.  Scoville Library and the Salisbury Association make the video available to view HERE.

14. Several years ago, our late President, in cooperation with the Sharon Historical Society, created a professionally produced video about the iron history of the Northwest Corner of Connecticut — and it is no surprise that this video features Beckley Furnace!  For many years, the video was popular required viewing for school classes visiting Beckley, and once you watch the video, you will understand why.  It’s historically accurate, definitely illuminating, and an easy way to get into iron history.  View it on the website of the Sharon Historical Society right HERE.