Salisbury celebrates 250 years of iron ore history in 2012
SALISBURY — Salisbury iron played a key role in our nation’s industrial history and this month we celebrate the 250th anniversary of a major step in its development : the beginning of the 1762 Salisbury iron furnace. Smaller ironworks dated back to 1735, but the larger furnace, operating during the Revolutionary War, put Salisbury on the map. With the many forges, furnaces and foundries operating in the 19th century, Salisbury iron became the standard for high quality.In January 1762, four partners (John Hazeltine, Samuel and Elisha Forbes and Ethan Allen) met in Salisbury to get the furnace project underway. Coming from different backgrounds, each contributed to its success. Hazeltine, an entrepreneur from eastern Massachusetts, brought his experience running several ironworks as well as the major project financing. Samuel Forbes ran a successful iron operation in East Canaan and, with his brother Elisha, owned key rights to the iron ore in Salisbury’s Ore Hill. The 24-year-old Ethan Allen brought his powerful ability to get things done.The four partners identified an appropriate site: the outlet of Lake Wononscopomoc in what is now Lakeville. A forge had been built in 1748 and was being operated by Leonard Owen. On Jan. 11, the partners purchased the 48-acre site, including the water rights, dwellings and charcoal sheds. A week earlier they had purchased rights in the Mount Riga woodlands, providing a source for the charcoal used to fuel the furnace. At the same time the Forbes brothers sold a share of their Ore Hill rights to Hazeltine and Allen. With these transactions in place, the partners on Jan. 16 signed an agreement to build and operate the furnace, with Hazeltine as overseer of the business and Samuel Forbes as iron master.Iron production began that September and continued until 1843. Within a few years after production began, the four partners had sold their interests, with Hazeltine and Allen moving to what would become Vermont and the Forbes brothers returning to their East Canaan ironworks.With the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, Connecticut’s Gov. Jonathan Trumbull took over the furnace for the purpose of producing cannons for General Washington’s army. Production began in the spring of 1776 and by July 4, the day of the Declaration of Independence, 40 cannons were ready to be shipped. During the war, some 850 cannons came out of Salisbury, as much as 75 percent of all the cannons produced in the Colonies. Salisbury well deserved the name Arsenal of the Revolution.The Salisbury Association Historical Society owns the original 1762 Partnership Agreement and currently has a descriptive exhibit on display at the Academy Building in Salisbury. Ron Jones, a retired attorney, was the founding chairman of the Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area.