ATHENS, HOCKING VALLEY
Buckeye Furnace State Memorial, is a beautifully reconstructed charcoal-fired blast furnace typical of those serving Ohio’s Hanging Rock Iron Region from the mid-1800s. Leave Leo to the southeast, through the villages of Coalton and Glen Roy. At Wellston, take SR 327 south, across SR 32, to make a left turn onto SR 124 at Berlin Crossroads. At 3.8 miles, go right on Buckeye Furnace Road; the site is well signposted. (123 Buckeye Park Road, Wellston, OH 45692, 740-384-3537).
The approach road passes through watery lowlands surrounded by forested hills. Soon the massive, reconstructed, stone blast furnace complex appears beside the road. Through the open-air casting shed, the mouth of the charcoal-fired oven is visible. To the left is the engine house, where steam heat from the furnace would drive air compressors to increase the heat of the fire. A timber superstructure above the chimney, reachable by a separate trail, is the charging shed where the ingredients (iron ore, limestone) were measured in from above.
Nearby atop the bluff is also the huge, open-air storage shed, for the vast quantities of materials needed to keep the furnace running continuously. Visitors can see the casting shed, charging loft, and steam-engine house, as well as the company store serving as an orientation area.
The Hanging Rock Iron Region of Ohio prospered during and just after the Civil War, as many small company towns of 300-400 residents operated the furnaces, and produced the iron for America’s early industry. All the key raw ingredients were locally plentiful: wood for fires, limestone for flux, and the iron ore itself.
Vast tracts of forest were depleted in the process, and families were conscripted in servitude in these isolated, self-contained communities, which were structured around their own schools, churches, and even commerce and currencies wholly controlled by the “Company Store.” A restored company store and ironmaster’s house, as well as a covered bridge, are visible at Buckeye Furnace.
To reach Athens, return to SR 32 at Berlin Crossroads and head northeast.