History of Pine Grove Furnace State Park
Pine Grove Furnace
In 1764, partners George Stevenson, Robert Thornburgh and John Arthur built an iron furnace along Mountain Creek. They named it Pine Grove Iron Works. It manufactured ten plate stoves, fireplace backs, iron kettles and possibly munitions during the American Revolution.
In 1782, Michael Ege, a rising Cumberland County iron mogul, purchased the iron works. Over the next 32 years, Ege grew his business until he was the sole owner of Pine Grove, Cumberland, Holly and Carlisle iron works.
Michael’s oldest son, Peter Ege, inherited Pine Grove Iron Works. In 1829, Peter built for his wife, Jane Arthur Ege, a red brick, English Tudor mansion. Jane died at Pine Grove in 1841 and was laid to rest in the Pine Grove Cemetery next to her son George Washington Ege, who had died in 1831.
Peter expanded his iron works in 1830, building Laurel Forge, which reheated and hammered cast iron from Pine Grove Furnace to produce wrought iron, a bendable metal that could be formed into many shapes.
The financial panic of 1837 bankrupted the Pine Grove Iron Works. At a sheriff sale the following year, Frederick Watts and his law partner Charles Bingham Penrose purchased Pine Grove to try their luck in the iron business. Watts went on to found Penn State University in 1855 and served in 1871 as Commissioner of Agriculture for President Grant. Penrose was a state senator and Solicitor of the Treasury for President Harrison.
In 1864, Jay Cooke and Company bought the iron works and formed South Mountain Iron Company, bringing in Jackson C. Fuller to be the furnace manager to run the daily operations, while the business affairs were taken care of in Philadelphia. The new company built South Mountain Railroad to bring raw materials to the furnace and move the iron products to market.
Jay Cooke is often called the “Financier of the Civil War.” He raised about $1.2 billion through the sale of federal treasury notes. Taking only a small commission on the sale of each bond made Cooke the wealthiest man in America by the end of the war. He then bought the Northern Pacific Railroad, which failed in the poor economy and depression after the war. Cooke was bankrupt and moved into his son-in-law’s home. The closing of the banking house of Jay Cooke and Company caused the financial panic of 1873.
The South Mountain Iron Works went up for sheriff sale, but no one bought it. In 1877, the railroad and iron works were sold separately. Through his friend Fuller, Cooke bought back the ironworks, forming the South Mountain Mining and Iron Company.
Future founding member of the Pennsylvania Forestry Association, John Birkinbine, became the furnace’s engineer. Concerned over Pennsylvania’s dwindling forest reserves and wanting to show that charcoal iron furnaces could be fired with alternative fuels like coke and coal, Birkinbine renovated the furnace in the winter of 1878. Charcoal remained the primary fuel of the furnace, but the furnace no longer had to shut down when charcoal supplies were exhausted. Birkinbine also increased the size of the furnace, which produced 6,000 net tons of cast iron in 1883, the peak year of production.
But, new technologies were quickly putting small iron producers out of business. Pine Grove Furnace went out of blast in 1895, ending 131 years of iron making on South Mountain.
Pine Grove Furnace State Park
In 1913, the 17,000-acre Pine Grove Ironworks was sold to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to be part of the new Forest Reserve system. Much of the land became Michaux State Forest, and part became Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Fuller Lake, an iron ore quarry, which had filled with groundwater when mining ceased, became a popular swimming area. Laurel Lake had supplied waterpower for Laurel Forge. Today it is popular for fishing and swimming.
In 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) established Camp S-51-PA. The CCC boys built roads, trails and facilities until 1941.
Some of the historic buildings dating back to the charcoal iron community still stand and include:
Remnants of raceways, charcoal hearths, and related manmade features are still discernible.
In 1977, Pine Grove Iron Works was entered in the National Register of Historical Places.