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Howard historical site gives glimpse into iron industry

Curtin Village historical site can be toured from the first weekend in June through the last weekend in October.
Curtin Village historical site can be toured from the first weekend in June through the last weekend in October. Centre Daily Times, file

Editor’s note: This story is part of the Road Trips special section.

About 3 miles off the Interstate 80 Milesburg exit, Curtin Village at Eagle Ironworks historical site offers visitors a glimpse into the life of ironworkers and ironmasters in the 1800s.

The village, established in 1810 by Roland Curtin and owned by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, can be toured from the first weekend in June through the last weekend in October. For $4 per person or $1 for children 12 and younger, tour guide and caretaker John Romani provides an historical account of Eagle Ironworks.

In the 1800s, Eagle Ironworks was one of several iron producing sites in the state. The combination of iron ore deposits, forests for fuel and flowing water for power led to the establishment of iron plantations throughout the commonwealth.

To draw workers to the plantations, ironmasters such as Curtin would build villages that offered housing, stores, churches and schools. Iron production was a lucrative business and the ironmasters would usually have a mansion constructed on the grounds so they could interact with their workers.

The tour of Eagle Ironworks begins in the Curtin mansion, which was built in 1830. The 15-room, Federal-style home includes the original floors, woodworking and staircase. The rooms are ornamented with furniture from the time period, including a cradle made in the village, which Romani said has been seen by visitors rocking without a push.

The focal point of the tour is the cold blast charcoal furnace, which was the last of its kind in operation in the United States when it was damaged in a fire in 1921.

For more than 100 years, water from the nearby creek was channeled to the blast house. The water would turn the almost 15-foot-tall waterwheel, which cranked pistons that compressed air inside large wooden drums above the wheel. The air was blast through steel piping into the heart of the furnace, where it would feed the fire and heat the charcoal to almost 3,000 degrees. When the fire was brought to the correct temperature, the iron ore would melt and flow into the forms and cool. The result was iron bars called “pig iron,” which would be sold.

Throughout the season, Curtin Village is home to special events. This summer, “Civil War days” will return to the grounds on June 17 and 18 for the first time in more than 20 years. On July 23, the village will host a children’s program. Sept. 23 and 24 will play host to a bushcrafting event, and the season will close with the fall harvest program on Oct. 21.

Leon Valsechi: 814-231-4631, @leon_valsechi

If you go

What: Curtin Village at Eagle Ironworks

When: Tours given the first weekend in June through the last weekend in October

Where: 251 Curtin Village Road, Howard

Info: 355-1982, www.curtinvillage.com

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