Warwick Furnace History

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It was a good day. Not only will the Warwick Furnace Farm now be protected as one of North America’s most significant historical sites, but as a refuge for birds, plants, animals and people. It is not unusual to catch a glimpse of the bald eagles or red-tailed hawks that nest just upstream, or hear the yipping of a coyote from the ridge at dusk.


The Warwick Furnace, built in 1736, was used to build cannons and other weapons for the Continental Army


It is truly a special experience to stand in the original hall of the Iron Master’s manor and wonder about the words exchanged between Robert Grace and Benjamin Franklin over the design and construction of the Franklin Stove, or to ponder what George Washington felt as he watched his troops prepare to once again march into battle with the British. Although the Warwick Furnace property has been out of operation for nearly 150 years, French & Pickering is excited to write a new chapter in its history. The impact of these parcels on the natural environment and on history is immeasurable. Spencer Lodge Windle described the awe of the furnace in A History of Warwick Furnace, printed in 1945:

Preserve Property Line

“The Furnace, according to the custom of the day, was built into the side of a small hill in order that the ore, limestone flux, and charcoal could be placed in it at the top. No doubt this old furnace must have created an impressive sight when in full blast. The intermittent roar of the forced blast could be heard for long distances and from the top of the furnace stack a stream of sparks

The South Branch of French Creek is a state-designated Exceptional Value waterway

The 108-acre Thomas P. Bentley Preserve is home to many native plant and animal species, including this toad

was occasionally emitted as the flames rose and fell like the fiery breath of a great dragon.”

Warwick Furnace remains an impressive sight 279 years later, even without the plume of fiery sparks. But its preservation did not happen easily. French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust



Forging Our Future


An aerial view of Warwick Furnace Farm and the French Creek valley.

A cyclist enjoys the serene views of the valley in late winter.


On December 18, 2015, after one full year of planning, fundraising and extensive collaboration at the local, state and national levels, French & Pickering closed on the Warwick Furnace Farm project. A neighboring landowner purchased 381 acres of which 371 were placed under a new conservation easement, and French & Pickering purchased the remaining 171 acres, including the historic Iron Master’s manor, furnace ruins, and surrounding open space. Our project plans include reforestation, historic preservation, and compatible public uses. When French & Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust was approached about the sale of the Pew property, the staff and 18

Land Matters Spring 2016

board were faced with a challenge. We had been offered the chance to protect a very important property, but how were we going to raise $7 million dollars to make this happen? The Board of Directors met last February and voted yes, to take the risk and work to try and save this property from development. We understood there was the potential to build 124 units on the site. THE IMPORTANCE OF PARTNERSHIP

It was essential to have the support of the broader conservation community on our decision to move forward. There were many conversations. We spoke with everyone. The response was overwhelmingly positive. Charles Jacob, Chair of the Warwick Township Board

of Supervisors said, “Three hundred years ago, the iron and steel industry started in Pennsylvania right here. The protection of this property is important to the township for both its historic and environmental significance.” After one very busy year, we secured closing on Warwick Furnace Farm with a loan from The Conservation Fund, grants from the Open Space Institute, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Chester County, Warwick and East Nantmeal Townships, and individual donations. It was through the successful collaboration of dedicated partners that we have permanently protected the 553-acre Warwick Furnace Farm for present and future generations to enjoy.

Forging Our Future


Furnace for over two decades, Robert and Rebecca transferred ownership of Coventry forge and Warwick Furnace to their son-inlaw, Thomas Potts. Prior to the American Revolution, it was transferred to his brother Samuel Potts and Thomas Rutter, III, who in turn hired Thomas Bull to manage the operations. During the Revolution, Bull left to serve as an officer in the Continental Army, at which time the Furnace was designated an official arsenal and came to play to an important role in the Revolutionary War.


The Warwick Furnace was built in 1737 and is the third oldest of its kind in the state. Using the abundant forests of Pennsylvania to produce charcoal to fuel the fire, the limestone and iron ore beneath the ground to charge the furnace, and the powerful waters of the South Branch of the French Creek to power the bellows and fuel the blast furnaces with air, Warwick Furnace produced a variety of iron products including pig iron, iron stoves, pots, clock weights, and later the cannons and artillery needed for the Revolutionary War. During peak production in the 18th century, the furnace required 240 acres of timber from the region per year, and its smoke stack was often used as a landmark for travelers passing through. Samuel Nutt, who also built the nearby Coventry Forge and bloomery, was one of the early pioneers and leaders of the iron industry in Pennsylvania. Not long after his establishment in the region, he married Anna Savage, a daughter of a fellow prominent figure in the local iron industry. The Forge at Coventry was one of the most successful forges of its time and was run by Samuel Nutt with the help of Mordecai Lincoln, the great-greatgrandfather of Abraham Lincoln. Despite his immense success with Coventry Forge, Samuel was not satisfied and envisioned a larger furnace along the South Branch of French Creek. Sadly, Samuel died before the furnace could be constructed, but his widow, Anna, and her children, carried out his vision. One year after his passing, Warwick Furnace was built. THE FURNACE GIVES BIRTH TO THE “FRANKLIN STOVE”

Following Samuel’s death and the merging of Coventry Forge and Warwick Furnace, Anna partnered with Robert Grace, who had married Samuel Nutt Jr.’s widow, Lady Rebecca Savage. Through this partnership, Robert Grace assisted Anna 20

Land Matters Spring 2016


with the management of operations at both Coventry Forge and Warwick Furnace. Robert Grace was also a close friend of Benjamin Franklin, whom he had met during his time spent living in Philadelphia. Franklin generously gave Grace a design, free of patent, of a new stove called the ‘Pennsylvania Fireplace’, which was immeasurably more efficient than fireplaces currently in use at the time. It was at Warwick Furnace that these fireplaces, which have since been renamed as Franklin Stoves, were first cast and became widely popular across the colonies. The success of the Franklin Stove inspired and enabled Robert Grace to transform operations at Warwick Furnace, creating advertisements for its products and increasing production and profit. In 1765, after operating the Warwick

Warwick Furnace remained one of the largest and busiest furnaces in operation after the Revolutionary War. While most furnaces produced somewhere around twenty-five tons of pig iron weekly, the furnace at Warwick produced an average of forty tons at its peak. Warwick Furnace remained in operation under various owners for nearly 100 years following Washington’s stay, ending up once again in the hands of the Potts family. Due to the discovery of coal as more efficient heating source and the depletion of available resources in the area, the Potts family (Pottstown’s namesake) ceased operations and silenced the Warwick Furnace forever in 1867. Although the stone ruins are all that remain of this industrial giant, the property is very much alive today. The Pew family acquired the property in the 1920s and spent over a decade restoring the Iron Master’s manor and several of the original buildings from the 18th century. Many of the structures, which served as residences for the 100-plus ironworkers, still stand today, although with a touch of beauty from the famed architect Richardson Brognard Okie (b. June 26, 1875, d. December 25, 1945), who specialized in designing new and restored colonial revival style homes in the greater Philadelphia area. He developed a distinctive Pennsylvania farmhouse style.