MAKING IRON at JANNEY FURNACE
from various sources
In mid-1863, Montgomery businessman Alfred A. Janney, was in the Calhoun County area buying iron ore for another of his furnaces when he notices iron ore on the ground on a ridge about a mile north of Ohatchee. Janney and his partner, Ned Lewis, realizing the potential for an iron furnace in the area, purchased the tract of land from William Griffin, a local farmer.
Employing about 200 Negro slaves brought from Tennessee by a 'Dr. Smith', Janney began construction on the furnace. The structure, using skilled Negro stonemasons, was built of sandstone quarried from the local area. Janney shipped equipment and machinery from his furnace in Montgomery to be used at the site.
The Confederates had hoped to use Janney Furnace to provide desperately needed pig iron for the South. However, on July 14, 1864, Union Major General Lovell H. Rousseau and a force of 2300 Cavalrymen successfully defeated Confederate Brigadier General James H. Clanton and elements of the 6th and 8th Alabama Cavalry opposing his crossing the Coosa River at Ten Islands Ford. After crossing the river and learning of the location of Janney Furnace, Rousseau sent his engineer officer, Captain Ed Ruger and a detail of men to destroy the furnace. The Union soldiers burned all the wooden structures supporting the operation of the furnace as well as the workers shacks. Explosive charges were placed on the chimney and the entire chimney that capped the furnace was demolished. The fact that the furnace was not operational possibly prevented it from being destroyed. All the materials necessary for the production of cast iron were readily available in the immediate area. An abundance of iron ore (hematite) was only a few yards away. In fact the deep ravine behind the furnace where the ore was mined can still be seen. Ore from this site also possibly supplied the iron works on Cane Creek. Located about 5 miles away, this producing iron works was totally destroyed by Union raiders. Limestone was also abundant from near-by quarries and was easily transported to the furnace. Charcoal was either produced on site or transported in from other locations. The acquisition and transport of these materials would have required a large work force additional to those operating the furnace. Rated to produce 15 tons of cast iron daily, the overall operation of the furnace would have been quite large.
For example, the production of charcoal involved scores of woodcutters and workers to cut, haul, and make the charcoal. Charcoal was made by cutting hardwood trees into sticks which were piled into a dome-shaped heap and plastered with mud and turf. A typical heap might include 15 to 45 cords of wood. A hole was left at the top and an opening at ground level on one side. The fire was lit at the opening, and when things were burning nicely, the opening was nearly blocked up to limit the air supplied to the fire. Dense smoke came out of the hole at the top as the volatiles were burnt off. It could take as long as two weeks to complete the operation. When the smoke became light and blue, the job was done. The air was completely blocked off to extinguish the fire and the heap left to cool. When it was torn apart, much of the wood was porous black sticks, mainly of carbon. Almost pure carbon, the charcoal would burn without smoke or yellow flame, and not contaminate anything with impurities.
Had the Janney Furnace been operational, the production of cast iron would have been routine. Using a bridge that connects the charging port at the top of the furnace to the earthworks behind the furnace, carts would be used to dump, in turn, layers of charcoal, limestone, and iron ore into the furnace. These additions would be repeated several times until the top of the furnace was reached. The furnace would then be ignited at the bottom, and a strong continuous volume of air would be admitted through the openings called tuyeres to fan the flames. The air would be supplied by large bellows powered by a steam engine. The water supply of the steam engine would come from the large hole or reservoir on the east side of the furnace. The high volume of forced air to the burning charcoal created temperatures in excess of 2300 degrees Fahrenheit and would melt both the iron ore and the limestone. The iron, being heavier, would settle to the bottom of the furnace where it would be drained off or cast. A clay valve on the bottom of the furnace permitted flow of molten iron into a shallow channel furrowed in sand and into sand molds. The shape of the sand molds was such as to remind ironworkers of a sow suckling pigs. Thus the cast iron was called 'pig iron'.
The molten limestone acted as an absorbent for the impurities in iron, and being lighter floated on top, where it was drained off separately as slag. Once started, the furnace would run day and night, 7 days a week, with new charges being added continuously, at the top of the furnace.
There is considerable speculation as to whether Janney Furnace was ever operational. None of the sandstone lining in the interior of the furnace is blackened from smoke or glazed from the intense heat as would be the case if the furnace had produced cast iron.
A restored furnace, very similar in construction to Janney Furnace, can be seen at Tannehill State Park.