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Now overgrown with vines and crumbling from years of decay, the old
Reed Island iron furnace three miles from Allisonia stands as a quaint
reminder of one of the early industries of Pulaski county. Built more
than 50 years ago, it was operated until 1908, when the market for pig
iron was curtailed and the old natural-draft stacks had become outmoded.
The Reed Island furnace was only one of many in that section, but its
history is typical. First, the iron ore had to be mined from the
surrounding hills and brought to the furnace by railroad.
But before it could be melted, charcoal also had to be transported
from the mountains. Coal was burned near the mines by heaping it up
over great hearths. These piles were covered with leaves and dirt
and then heated from a pit underneath, the burning process requiring
15 days and the constant attention of a skilled worker. After the
charcoal was ready it was loaded in four-bushel baskets and carried to
wagons waiting nearby. Tom SISK, one of the oldest employees of the
furnace, remembers that he and other men balanced these baskets on
their heads as they walked from the pits to the wagons.
Getting the charcoal down to the furnace was sometimes another great
problem. The mountain roads were so narrow and steep that often small
trees had to be tied to the wagons to keep them from turning over.
At the furnace, which was originally owned by Graham Robinson and is
now on the property of the Virginia Iron, Coal and Coke Co., the wagons
were unloaded by simply removing the boards from the beds.
With plenty of raw material now on hand the furnace could be put in
operation. Two men known as "fillers" stood on top of the 35 foot
stack and mixed the charcoal with the iron ore. This mixture was
heated to a high temperature and a "gutterman" below drained off the
molten metal, allowing it to run out into a long channel with molds
of sand on either side. These sand pig "beds" were made by another
employee known as a "keeper." Here the metal cooled and was made ready
for shipment. Twelve tons of the finest grade pig iron could be turned
out of the furnace in a day.
The furnace itself was built with a base of great boulders which
supported the brick stack. The bricks were strengthened by iron bands
running around it and that the whole was of solid construction there
is no doubt, for it still remains intact and with a few repairs might
be put in operation today.
Near the furnace is another relic of a by-gone day: a grist mill
said to be the oldest mill of its type now grinding meal in Pulaski
county. It was also built by Graham ROBINSON in the early 1880's,
and still grinds corn one day each week. Powered by water from a log
dam on Little Reed Island creek, the great burstone grinders once had
a capacity of 35 to 40 bushels of cornmeal in a day, and, up until 1915,
flour was produced for the farmers of that section. It is now operated
by Buford MORRIS.

Source: 1939 Centennial Edition of the SW Times

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