Iron Furnace Recreation area overview
A 1/2 mile trail leading from the back of the picnic area features bottomland habitat and bottomland tree species. The trail winds along Big Creek and offers 2 or 3 deep old-fashioned Swimming holes.
Iron Furnace History
The Illinois Iron Furnace is the only remaining iron furnace structure in the state of Illinois and is located in the Shawnee National Forest. Iron was manufactured at the Illinois Furnace by the charcoal blast method. The furnace was built on a dry laid limestone foundation. The exterior of the furnace was manufactured of large limestone blocks quarried near the town of Cave-In-Rock. The interior wall, or lining, was constructed of firebrick from Pennsylvania. The space between the interior and exterior walls was filled with sandstone. Wrought iron binders were placed through the stonework and tightened to secure the walls. All of the stonework was dry laid to allow for expansion when the furnace was in blast.
It took approximately forty men working in two shifts to keep the furnace in full blast. Workmen at the furnace included a general manager, at least two founders, a chief filler with five to seven assistants, a keeper and one or more helpers, a molder, a gutterman with four or five helpers, and five or six miscellaneous laborers. Workmen away from the furnace included many woodchoppers, colliers, iron ore miners, limestone quarrymen and teamsters
The iron castings called “pigs,” were transported to Elizabethtown along the Ohio River. From there it was shipped out to manufactures. Worthen indicates the Illinois Iron Furnace shut down in 1861. Although there was a need for iron during the Civil War, the lack of men to work at the furnace may have hampered attempts to smelt iron during and after the War. The furnace appears to have been in operation sporadically between 1872 and 1879. In August 1880, the Illinois Iron Furnace was “blown in” and manufacturing continued through 1887.
The furnace was partially destroyed in the 1930’s to supply rock rubble for the embankments of the Hog Thief Creek Bridge built by the CCC. The current appearance of the Illinois Iron Furnace is due to a reconstruction in 1967. The reconstructed furnace core
is solid, having been filled with rubble and concrete.
From Harrisburg take Highway 34/145 south 6 miles, then continue on Highway 34 south for 16 miles to
Highway 146. Go east on Highway 146 for 3.5 miles to Iron Furnace road, turn north and follow the directional signs to the historic site.
Near by areas
Garden of the gods wilderness area, Pounds Hollow, Rim Rock, Tower Rock, One Horse gap and Camp Cadiz