Thursday, May 7, 2015

Lake County, Ohio - Iron Industry Began Here

Lake County does not come immediately to mind when one mentions 'iron'.  The names Youngstown, Cleveland and Warren would be the better guess.  However long before these cities came into play, it was Lake County that had a thriving iron industry, specifically the Madison area.  The era was the early to mid-1800's.

Bog iron was discovered by surveyors attempting to lay the course for a 70' wide road from Cleveland to Erie, Pa. The year was 1812.  The ore was scattered throughout the Madison area from Middle Ridge to Lake Erie over acres of land.  Early furnaces appeared in Mentor as cast iron plows and iron bells were cast.  In 1824 an iron works was established on the banks of the Grand River for the production of cooking and potash kettles.  The first furnace to refine iron was built in 1826 by Erie Furnace Company.  Samuel Wheller and Cyrus Cunningham bought 52 acres that had bog ore on it.  Soon an industry developed extending from Hubbard Road to County Line Road as well as from Middle Ridge to the Lake.

By 1825 three additional furnaces were built.  Another four were added in 1833.  Natural resources made the area well suited for manufacturing.  Resources and a Lake for transportation were ideal for the early businessmen.  A small furnace was renamed Arcole in 1831 and sold to Samuel Wilkerson and Uri Seeley.  Today this area is Arcola Road.  Their furnace was in its day the largest industry in Ohio.  Production totals hit 1500 tons annually.  Twenty years of prosperity resulted and Madison was second to Painesville in population- both larger than nearby Cleveland. Ore production and agriculture were the leading exports in the late '40s.  A port located on Dock Road became the shipping hub of the era alongwith the neighboring Grand River-Fairport location.

The mid-1800's saw the demise of the iron industry in the county.  Bog iron was running out and newly found sites elsewhere yielded a better quality ore.  Charcoal necessary for the furnaces were harder and more expensive to obtain. Arcole Iron Co. was sold and other furnaces simply abandoned.  The Dock Road / Madison Port was a ghost town by 1850.  Hundreds of settlers and homesteads transitioned to farming.  Remnants of the industrial era of Madison are few.  Cunningham's 1825 home is still in use and the one furnace building remains as a moment frozen in time.  The blue rocks or slag still can be found in the gardens of the locals.

source - articles from the Western Reserve and Lake County Historical Societies

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