Park to celebrate 200 years of the Newlee Iron Furnace

Published 9:30 am Monday, October 14, 2019

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Visitors attending An Iron Will Festival, sponsored by the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, will step back in time and immerse themselves in another fascinating chapter of the rich history of our area. Two hundred years ago in 1819, an iron furnace was built below what is known as Gap Cave, utilizing for its operation the stream from the cave.

Charles Seller, park superintendent, says this new park offering, which will be held in the town of Cumberland Gap, is a “jubilant celebration welding together the park, the town, area residents and visitors with history, discovery and fun.”

The family-friendly event includes a live modern iron pour by staff from Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Birmingham, Alabama. A charcoal making demonstration and cast iron pattern making will also be demonstrated.

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There will be performances at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. by historical re-enactor Elizabeth Lawson, who portrays an enslaved African American in a world of iron and Civil War.

Visitors will have the opportunity to meet iron furnace owner “John Newlee” and “Dr. Morrison,” physician for the workers of the iron furnace. Youth will be able to engage in a scavenger hunt and help Skillet the Pig find the truth about pig iron. Those participating in this event will be rewarded with an iron piglet upon successful completion of the scavenger hunt. The workbook can be picked up at Welcome Tables located at either end of Colwyn Avenue, the main street in Cumberland Gap. For a small fee, visitors will be able to make their own iron creation.

On his historic journey in 1750 through the now famed mountain pass, Dr. Thomas Walker made note of a spring coming from a cave. In his journal, he noted “The spring is sufficient to turn a mill.” 69 years after Dr. Walker penned his entry, the blast furnace was built. Large sandstone blocks were used from nearby. Fire brick was used to line the inside of the furnace, which was used to smelt iron.

Iron ore was mined nearby. Limestone was added in the process and firewood was made into charcoal for use as fuel. Water from the cave stream powered large bellows and a massive hammer mill.

Each day 625 bushels of charcoal (approximately 52 trees), 6.25 tons of iron ore and 1,563 pounds of limestone were used to produce approximately 3 tons of iron. Iron was sold to local blacksmiths and also shipped in the form of ingots or “pigs” down the Powell River to Chattanooga.

The festival will be held on Oct. 18-19, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is free to the public.

For more information, call Cumberland Gap National Historical Park at 606-248-2817 or log onto: