The Catoctin Furnace Historical Society Receives Support from Delaplaine Foundation for Museum of the Ironworker

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The $15,000 grant from Delaplaine Foundation will help to complete the exhibit in the new Museum of the Ironworker.

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The Catoctin Furnace Historical Society, Inc. received a $15,000 grant from Delaplaine Foundation to help complete the fabrication and installation of the “Dirty and Dangerous: The Heritage of an Iron Village” exhibit in the new Museum of the Ironworker, located at 12610 Catoctin Furnace Road in the village of Catoctin Furnace. The Museum, which will be housed in a ca 1820 stone cottage, is scheduled to open in 2021.

The “Dirty and Dangerous: The Heritage of an Iron Village” exhibit will focus on all workers at Catoctin Furnace through time: the wealthy Anglo-American furnace owners, the white European immigrants who worked at the furnace during its later periods of activity, and the enslaved workers at the furnace from the 1770s to the 1850s. The exhibit is designed to increase public awareness of the crucial role of all these workers who contributed to the furnace’s output and success for more than 130 years and whose contributions still resonate in the immediate community and throughout the United States. These exhibits will provide enrichment not only for visitors and students, but also for residents of the village and surrounding area, many of whom are descendants of the furnace workers. It is important to tell their story and provide a narrative of their immense contributions to our country.

Seven exhibit designs have been formulated: 1) Natural Resources - advantageous location for iron 2) Casting Light on the Furnace - process of iron making; 3) Enslaved and Free African Americans - contribution of the workers and the scientific discovery process; 4) Clothing - discovery of 100+ articles of worker clothing; 5) Daily Life - life in the village; 6) Evolving Transportation - from mules to railroads; 7) Leisure – culture/celebrations, moments of respite and leisure spanning race, class, and gender.

This new grant from Delaplaine Foundation aligns with their historic preservation focus – one of six areas of their Foundation mission’s concentrations, according to Delaplaine Foundation President Marlene Young, and generously supplements the Foundation’s crucial funding for the Museum of the Ironworker’s recently completed state-of-the-art facial reconstructions of two of Catoctin Furnace’s enslaved workers (a young mother in her 30s and a young man in his teens). The reconstructions will serve as centerpieces of the larger exhibit on the lives of the ironworkers and which add identity to the important--and long-neglected-- contributions of these enslaved laborers whose stories were not recorded in the written pages of history, but now can be told through the skeletal remains uncovered during a rescue excavation in 1979 that unearthed the remains of 35 individuals who were interred in the Catoctin Furnace African American Cemetery during the late 1700s and early 1800s. The compelling nature of these facial reconstruction exhibits coupled with the flexibility and appeal of an interactive IPAD-based exhibit all within the context of the larger exhibit that will tell the story of those who lived and labored here will allow us to expand this mission to a much wider audience and introduce new visitors to the fascinating history of this important site.

The 600 square foot exhibit area in the museum, as well as the gift shop area and restroom, will be open to the public year-round, serving as the visitors center for the Catoctin Furnace area of Cunningham Falls State Park. Our recently completed African American Cemetery Interpretative Trail links the museum to the parking lot at the furnace area and provides an informative walk with 11 wayside panels through the village and to overlooks including one close to the cemetery. The planned permanent museum exhibits will be designed to incorporate graphics and artifacts (including recently conserved Catoctin Furnace made stoves, cannonballs, and other more utilitarian objects) while encouraging visitors to explore the larger area's cultural landscape.

The Catoctin Furnace was built by workers owned or employed by the four Johnson brothers in order to produce iron from the rich deposits of iron ore found in the nearby mountains. At least 271 enslaved people of African ancestry made up the bulk of Catoctin Furnace’s earliest workers. In the decade before the Civil War, European immigrants began replacing the enslaved and freed African American workers as it was more economical to hire cheap labor than support an enslaved workforce. Descendants of the immigrants still live in the village.

The iron furnace at Catoctin played a pivotal role during the industrial revolution in the young United States. The furnace industry supported a thriving community, and company houses were established alongside the furnace stack. Throughout the nineteenth century, the furnace produced iron for household and industrial products. After more than one hundred years of operation, the Catoctin Furnace ceased production in 1903.

In 1973, the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society, Inc., was formed by G. Eugene Anderson, Clement E. Gardiner, J. Franklin Mentzer, and Earl M. Shankle to “foster and promote the restoration of the Catoctin Furnace Historic District…and to maintain the same exclusively for educational and scientific purposes…to exhibit to coming generations our heritage of the past.” Today, the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society, Inc. is undertaking groundbreaking research, including bioarchaeological research of the African American cemetery in Catoctin Furnace. In partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and the Reich Laboratory for Medical and Population Genetics at Harvard University, this project is analyzing ancient DNA and the human genome of revolutionary-era enslaved African American workers at Catoctin Furnace. Such research, in conjunction with other technologies such as stable isotope analysis, could tell us where these workers were born, where they lived throughout their lives, and what constituted their diet. We believe that every life mattered, and every past matters now. By studying and disseminating the results of this research, we hope that people everywhere will get to meet some of these early workers and understand the critical roles they played in the development of our young nation, as well as appreciate the rich, varied trajectories of their lives.

For more information on the museum or our research projects please contact or call 240-288-7396.

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