The land of Greenwood Furnace State Park was once the home of the People of the Standing Stone. The name comes from a tall stone obelisk that once stood in Huntingdon. By the time of William Penn, the Iroquois Confederation claimed the Juniata Valley and allowed groups of Shawnee and Tuscarora Indians to resettle there.
In the late 1700s, the area was settled by many groups, including Scots-Irish and the German-speaking Amish and Mennonite. Most of the early settlers were farmers. By the 1820s, there was a traveler’s inn and sawmill, and several families living in the area of the present park.
Greenwood Works 1834 - 1904
After purchasing the Freedom Iron Works in nearby Burnham in 1833, Norris, Rawle and Co. needed a steady supply of iron. A suitable location with iron ore, limestone, water, and trees was found here so they built Greenwood Furnace, which went into blast on June 5, 1834. The charcoal-fueled furnace produced about four tons of pig iron ingots per day with an annual output of around 1,200 tons. The iron was hauled by wagons over Stone Mountain to Freedom Iron Works to be turned into wrought iron.
To make its superior iron, charcoal was used to fuel the Greenwood Furnaces, and was made by colliers who skillfully burned wood on hearths to make charcoal. Around 330 acres per year were cut to supply charcoal. The hearths can still be found as large, flat circles, and have little vegetation on them due to soil contamination.
A small village grew up to support the furnace, including about 20 houses, a company store, office, blacksmith shop, and stables. Local ores were used, and in 1839, a large, rich deposit was discovered three miles from the furnace. The high quality ores made a superior grade of iron. By 1842, a gristmill was added and the lake was built to supply water to power the mill. Due to a depression in the iron industry in 1847, the Freedom Iron Works and Greenwood Works were sold at sheriff sale to John A. Wright & Company. John Armstrong Wright (1820 – 1891) was a civil engineer who helped found the Pennsylvania Railroad and the city of Altoona, its new rail center.
In 1856, the Freedom Iron Company began producing superior quality locomotive tires, railroad car wheels, and axles for the booming railroad industry, utilizing iron produced at the Greenwood Works. To fill the demand, the company expanded to four furnaces, including an additional stack here in 1864. Greenwood Furnace was the only known charcoal ironworks in the state to operate two or more stacks side-by-side.
Greenwood Furnace No. 2 had a capacity of about five tons per day, with an annual output of 1,800 gross tons. Instead of waterpower, this stack utilized steam power, which used the hot gasses from the furnace to fuel the boiler. The older furnace was converted to steam power at this time. By the early 1880s, iron production topped 3,000 tons annually, making this site one of the largest charcoal furnace operations in the state.
At the height of operation in the early 1880s, the community consisted of two furnaces, ironmaster’s mansion, company store, blacksmith and wagon shop, church, school, seventeen stables, ninety tenant houses, and a gristmill. About 300 employees and their families lived and worked here. Greenwood Furnace had a baseball team, the Energetics, and a 15-piece brass band.
By 1885, the older furnace was dismantled. The second stack was remodeled and enlarged in 1889 and 1902. However, changing economics, newer and more efficient fuels and processes, and the shifting of industry to larger urban-centered complexes coupled with the depletion of local natural resources led to the closing of Greenwood Furnace in December of 1904. The village and the way of life it represented became a mere curiosity, a fading memory of a time when charcoal iron reigned supreme. Greenwood Furnace soon became a ghost town. The workers moved away as the village and furnace were torn down.
Greenwood Forest Tree Nursery 1906 - 1993
In 1906, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania purchased the former ironworks land and established the Greenwood Forest Tree Nursery to reclaim the depleted forests. The area around Greenwood Furnace, having been enriched by years of charcoal dust and fly ash, was found to be well-suited for growing trees. The first seedlings taken from these beds were used to fill in bare spots in the surrounding area. By 1909, seedlings were shipped to distances far away from the nursery.
During its peak years in the 1970s and 1980s, the nursery produced an average of three million seedlings a year. Nursery operations ceased in 1993.
Greenwood Furnace State Park, 1924 - Present
The furnace was not forgotten. Former residents began to return to the now public land for recreation. By 1921, they organized an annual reunion called “Old Home Day.” Three years later, this reunion was a factor in the creation of the Greenwood Public Camp, forerunner of the current state park.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the young men from Civilian Conservation Corps camp S-59-PA constructed facilities and made improvements in the park and surrounding state forest.
In 1936, Furnace Stack #2 was restored as a monument to the heritage of our state forest lands coming from old industrial concerns. Six original buildings and the cemetery remain, including the mansion, church, and blacksmith and wagon shop.
In 1976, archeological work began to uncover the hidden remains of the community. In 1989, the National Park Service established the Greenwood Furnace Historic District.
In 1995, Greenwood Furnace was designated a Historic Landmark by ASM International (formerly the American Society for Metals), the 95th site in the world to be so honored. This distinction recognizes the superior quality of Greenwood Iron that was used in the westward expansion of America’s railroads.
Help preserve the remnants of this historic site by not climbing or walking on exposed foundations. These are fragile and can easily be destroyed forever. Leave any artifacts where found and report their location to any park employee. With your help, this 19th century community will remain for future generations to enjoy.