At first glance, one might think they were looking at the remains of a once-magnificent castle with grand halls, corridors, and courtyards. The imagination could run wild envisioning the fine furnishings, sculpted gardens, and meticulously dressed socialites sipping tea with their little fingers erect. On the contrary, however, the atmosphere in this place 150 years ago was far from glamorous. The smell of smoke and soot filled the noisy air and the constant roar of the furnaces was certainly much easier to bear than the intense heat they put out. The screech of the trains coming to a halt, dumping loads of raw materials, and departing again must have played on repeat like a broken record. Here the very strenuous practice of extracting iron from ore was performed from 1868 until 1921.
"Thomas Iron" was founded by David Thomas, a Welsh iron master, in 1854. He had come to America in 1839, to introduce the newly discovered process of "hot blast iron making" for the Lehigh Crane Iron Company. The technique involved burning anthracite coal in large ovens to heat the air before sending it through the blast furnace. This enabled the furnaces to reach higher temperatures, thereby expediting the process of extracting iron from tons and tons of ore and limestone, which was hauled in from mines in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Several other furnaces were built in other locations later.
David Thomas and his son, Samuel, established a furnace in Boonton, New Jersey, in 1848. Then, in 1855, they built two furnaces on the Butz farm in what is now Hokendauqua, Pennsylvania. In 1866, the Lock Ridge Iron Company was founded and the following year, two furnaces here, in Alburtis. Railroad lines were installed to make transporting ore from the mines to the iron works easier. The company continued producing iron until 1921, making it the last anthracite iron furnace to operate in America.
The furnaces at Alburtis were sold to the Reading Coal and Iron Company, which then sold it for scrap to William Butz. He dismantled much of the complex, leaving the stone masonry and in 1972 his family donated the ruins and the 59 acres of land surrounding it to Lehigh County for use as a public park. Lock Ridge Park opened to the public in 1976 and in 1981, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Lehigh Valley Historical Society operates the museum featuring exhibits illustrating the iron making process. The grounds are open to the public daily for photography, fishing, walking, jogging, picnicking, bike-riding or just relaxing. In the Spring, the sprawling lawns are covered with bluebells - surely a sight to see! Guided tours are also available on a limited basis. Visit Lehigh County's Park and Recreation page for details. The park is located at 525 Franklin Street in the borough of Alburtis in Lower Macungie Township.
To see some old pictures of what the place looked like in its heyday, visit the Lock Ridge Historical Society's website. It is obvious the county has taken great care in preserving this treasure for visitors to enjoy.
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