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The first annual Maryland Iron Festival was held the weekend of May 18 and 19, 2019 in historic Catoctin Furnace, in Thurmont, Maryland, to celebrate the state as a center for the craft of ironmaking. Activities were held within the historic village, as well as Catoctin Mountain Park, and Cunningham Falls State Park. The festival featured traditional blacksmithing, casting and molding demonstrations in partnership with Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, live music and performances, artists and craftspeople, spring plant and flower sales, children’s activities, a “feats of strength” tournament, tours of historic buildings and the iron furnace, delicious historic food, plein air artists, and local wine and craft beer.

Historic structures, such as the Collier’s Log House (ca. 1810) (pictured in background of our cover photo), the Stone Cottage (ca. 1820), and the Catoctin Iron Furnace were open to the public both days.

The newly constructed trail that was constructed and crafted by Catoctin Furnace volunteers with grant monies now links the furnace to the historic village. Visitors and locals enjoyed all facets of the festival. In our cover photo, Barry Riddle, Liam Deveney, Megan Deveney, Abbey Deveney (seated left to right) and Seamus Riddle and Matt Deveney (standing left to right) enjoyed the fresh streamside Catoctin Furnace Trail on Sunday, May 19.

The Catoctin Furnace was built by four brothers in order to produce iron from the rich deposits of hematite found in the nearby mountains. It 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 19th century, the furnace produced iron for household and industrial products. After more than 100 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 on human remains from 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 several revolutionary-era 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, please call 443-463-6437 or visit catoctinfurnace.org.