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Front of the Fitchburg Furnace showing firing chambers

Fitchburg Furnace

Site ID: 15Es105

Iron Furnace
Kentucky Archaeological Survey
Unless specified, we cannot provide site location information.


​​​​​​Many counties in eastern Kentucky contain iron ore. Many also hold the remains of iron furnaces that turned iron ore into workable iron beginning in the late eighteenth century. One of the most famous of these furnaces is Fitchburg Furnace, named after brothers Frank and Fred Fitch, who built it in 1867-1868. This furnace is the only one in the western hemisphere to have two side-by-side stacks. The owners named these large air chambers Chandler and Blackstone, after their investors.  

The furnace is considered a marvel of engineering and stonework. It only operated for a short time - until the mid-1870s - due to transportation problems (mostly the lack of a nearby railroad), but also competition from the newly developing Alabama iron field, and the Financial Panic of 1873.  

When the furnace needed structural repairs to its underground drainage system and to the stonework, archaeological excavations were conducted by the University of Kentucky to collect information on furnace construction and operation.  

Brickwork documented by archaeologists inside one of the furnace areas.


​​​Investigators placed units inside the furnace where stone repair work was needed. This work revealed intact interior furnace walls and “tuyere vent” air chambers, all covered by loose fill.  

Work on the rooftop documented a small oven, possibly used to cook-out impurities in the iron ore, or for use in the complex process of "hot blast" firing (which uses preheated air), unusual for Kentucky furnaces. 

​​​The remains of the casting shed, located in front of the furnace, also ​​were investigated. Inside these sheds, workers would have poured the hot iron into rows of molds called “piglets” (hence the name pig iron) to cool and harden.   

​Researchers also examined the narrow area between the back of the furnace and its powerhouse. Since this area had been filled-in, it produced many artifacts linked to furnace operation, including a large boiler tank with patent dates from 1864 to 1868.  The boiler had once been mounted on the furnace roof.  The powerhouse behind the furnace was thought to have had at least eight boilers. Although the side foundations of the powerhouse were partially exposed during the archaeological investigations, much of the bulding's base is likely preserved under rubble.

A firing chamber in one of the furnaces.

What's Cool?

Journals Document Furnace Construction​

Furnace builder Frank Fitch kept notebooks in which he recorded plans for the Fitchburg Furnace, notes on its construction and operation, and sundry personal accounts. 

Family members kept seven of these notebooks, dating from 1867 to 1873, and donated them in 2008 to the University of Kentucky Library. They are a very unusual and important resource that helped guide the archaeological investigations.​

Remains of the rooftop oven documented in back of the furnace.

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