Thursday, October 15, 2015

From Casting Iron and Forging Progress to Preserving Stories and Enlightening Visitors: Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

Nestled in the heart of Berks County, PA, and surround by bucolic French Creek State Park, lies Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (HOFU), a place that will surprise, enlighten and offer a rare glimpse into Southeastern Pennsylvania’s iron-making past and its influence on America’s industrial revolution.  Six Temple University ProRanger students joined Landscape Architecture and Design Associate Professor Robert Kuper’s class of senior design studio students to explore this unique historical site and draw inspiration from the beauty of its natural resources and the culture of its former inhabitants.  

Division Chief Frances Delmar
Hopewell Furnace Site Manager and Interpretation Division Chief Frances Delmar and Park Ranger Norman Feil, II provided the interpretative narration and walk-through necessary to accurately envision Hopewell Furnace at the height of its operations and iron-making production from the late 18th to the late 19th centuries.  But, as Delmar was sure to point out, “Hopewell is everyone’s place”; that is, unlike other very well-known national historic sites, Hopewell Furnace is the story of everyday people and everyday life.  

And, Delmar is right – while Hopewell figures prominently as the most intact example of an iron-making settlement, the real story is with its inhabitants and their day-to-day lives converting plentiful, local raw materials into finished products ranging from “Hopewell stoves” to hollow-ware to mortars and cannons used at the final battle at Yorktown.  In later years, Hopewell’s furnace produced “pig iron” that was used throughout the U.S. and the world.  

In addition to being technologically ahead of its time, Hopewell Furnace was a leader in gender and social equality.  The practice of equal pay for equal work was the norm – women earned the same as men for their work – and the workplace (including housing) was racially integrated.  

Park Ranger Norman Feil
After the last iron furnace was extinguished in the late 1880’s, the site fell into disuse and disrepair until the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the national stimulus program under the leadership of President Teddy Roosevelt, put the young and unemployed to work on large scale conservation projects on federal and state lands, including Hopewell Furnace.  The CCC’s preservation efforts in the 1930’s saved Hopewell Furnace from ruins, but in a twist of irony, were a social step backward for Hopewell, as the CCC was limited to young men only, and racial minorities were required to work and live separately from whites.  

Today, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site (just over an hour’s drive from Independence National Historical Park and less than 45 minutes from Valley Forge National Historical Park) is managed by the National Park Service and draws visitors looking to understand the cultural, natural and human resources behind the American industrial revolution, or to find respite and a quiet place to walk, run or recreate, or to simply take in the fall foliage in glorious shades of red, yellow and orange.  

Delmar also suggests families visit this time of year to gather and enjoy the kind of apples “you won’t find in a supermarket.”  For the bargain price of a dollar/pound (buckets provided), families can stock up on enough apples to last them through the fall.  Hopewell Furnace has something to offer to every visitor, but perhaps Neil put it best when he said the most valued finished product Hopewell “casts” today is enlightenment.

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