Danville, Pennsylvania and Iron
© by L Reichen and WAGS, 2003

         On October 8, 1845, the first T-rail that was fired with anthracite coal was rolled at the Montour Iron Company in Danville, Pennsylvania. That day was the beginning of iron’s fifty-year reign and hundred-year life in this community.
         Three things are required to produce iron: iron ore, limestone, and a source of fuel. Before 1845, wood, charcoal, or bituminous coal were the most common sources of fuel in the smelting process.  When it was discovered that anthracite coal, or hard coal, burned hotter and with more intensity and that it gave iron incredible strength, Danville was in an enviable position. In the hills around “Dan’s Town,” were extensive deposits of limestone and iron ore and within a short distance were unlimited “black fields” of anthracite coal.
         When the discovery of anthracite’s importance to the production of iron was partnered with the ideas of men like William Hancock, who had been recruited from Britain’s iron industry, Danville had a winning combination. Hancock and his contemporaries perfected a way to “roll” iron – to mass produce it with uniformity and strength in the shape of a “T.”
         For Danville, Pennsylvania, the first fifty years of iron’s reign were a time of phenomenal growth and prosperity.  In 1852, more than 136,500 tons of iron were rolled here in the mills on the banks of the Susquehanna.  Robert B. Gordon in his book, American Iron 1607-1900, writes, “That the Danville entrepreneurs successfully started five blast furnaces using a new fuel in two years shows Pennsylvanians’ new metallurgical expertise.  With their skills and abundant natural resources, they pushed their state to the fore in iron production.” 

         Iron fueled our nation’s westward expansion and an inevitable network of worldwide railway systems; it strengthened the might of the Northern Army in the Civil War; and it framed the reputation and history of a little community in central Pennsylvania.

Iron Heritage Festivals

        In 1999 a few local historians decided to celebrate the iron heritage of Danville, Montour Co. PA. The first year a small amount of people met in Danville’s ‘Canal Park’, celebrated the history and the people of the era. From this 1-day event the Iron Heritage Festival has become one of the largest historic festivals in Central PA.  A summer 2003 event focused on the life and music of Dr. Joseph Parry, on the 100th anniversary of his death. Dr. Parry was a Welsh composer who came from Wales to Danville at an early age with his parents and worked in the iron mills. He soon began to display musical talents and at the age of 19 became a composer. After studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London and then on to Cambridge, Mr. Parry earned degrees as a Bachelor of Music and then a Doctor of Music. He then returned to Danville between 1871 and 1874 and founded the Danville Musical Institute. Joseph Parry composed many hymns including his famous, ‘Jesus, Lover of my Soul’.  We enjoyed visits of not only our friends of Welsh decent, but also friends from Wales that will be visiting our area during the Iron Heritage Festival.

        In 2003, the first Cymanfa Ganu performed in Danville since 1908 was  conducted by Dr. Trefor Williams of Anglesey. It was followed by the traditional “Te Bach” (Little Tea) arranged by the Ladies of Mahoning Presbyterian Church and the Susquehanna Valley Welsh Society. Closing ceremonies took place at Memorial Park with folk singer K.J.

       Over 90 activities took place over the 2003 weekend with all but a few free thanks to sponsors and donations from the public.  Visit the website:  www.ironheritagefestival.net .

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