It all started when the iron-producing potential was realized with the discovery of iron ore, limestone, and timber in this area. Those three elements are what is needed in the "smelting" process. Furnaces quickly started popping up in the early 19th century. By 1830, the "Between the Rivers" area was the third-largest producer of iron ore in the United States.
Stewart County, Tennessee, which a part lies in the southern third of the Land Between the Lakes, had 14 iron furnaces alone. These were massive, pyramid-like structures made of stone with a pit in the middle.
To feed the fire, workers (many reportedly slaves) use charcoal made from the abundant timber in the area. The so-called "blast" was good enough to produce the iron ore. A by-product of this process known as "slag" can be found strewn all throughout LBL. Slag is easily identified as rocks with turquoise and deep blue colors and can be spotted everywhere, especially in the vicinity of furnaces*.
By the time of the Civil War, iron ore production is this area came to a stand-still. The industry never really picked back up after the war and by 1880 most the natural resources, once abundant, were gone. The last furnace in Stewart County, TN, was shut down in 1927.
Today, there are two furnaces that still remain partially intact. The best of the two, the Great Western Iron Furnace, which only operated a year, is located right on the Trace at the former site of Model, TN, and near the Homeplace 1850. The structure is amazingly well preserved and is quite a sight to look at.The other furnace, known as Center Furnace, has deteriorated substantially but can still be seen near Hematite Lake and the Nature Station. Center Furnace has an excellent walking trail (which is guided) with exhibits and markers explaining the historical significance of the furnace.
These two furnaces are another must-see in the Land Between The Lakes. Be sure to click on the links below to see Explorations of these two furnaces.
Iron Furnace Explorations... Great Western Furnace & Center Furnace
* collection of slag and all artifacts from LBL is prohibited.
More Attractions & Lodging in Land Between The Lakes
The Great Western Iron furnace is just one of several sights to see in Land Between The Lakes. If you aren't staying at one of LBL's campgrounds, consider a resort, hotel or motel, or other lodging options just outside Land Between The Lakes.
All Area Accommodations
Kentucky Lake Waterfront
Lake Barkley Waterfront
Note: ExploreKentuckyLake.com is not the official site of the Land Between The Lakes. You can access their official site here.