Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

Center for the State of the Parks: Park Assessments

Published October 2004

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In the woods of southeastern Pennsylvania, a community of men, women, and children worked to supply iron for the growing nation. They created a village called Hopewell that was built around an iron-making furnace. From 1771 to 1883, Hopewell Furnace manufactured iron goods to fill the demands of growing eastern cities like Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore. While the most profitable items were stoves, the furnace cast many other objects such as kettles, machinery, grates, and cannon shot and shells for patriot forces during the Revolutionary War.

As technology progressed, the furnace eventually became outdated. In 1883, it closed, and the furnace workers and their families left to make their livings elsewhere. They left behind their homes, work buildings, tools, and other evidence of the iron-making community that once thrived.

Today the remains of Hopewell Furnace represent an important time in America's maturation as a nation. The production of iron in hundreds of small furnaces like Hopewell provided the key ingredient in America's industrial revolution, enabling the United States to become an economic and technological leader worldwide.

In 1935, the United States paid A. Louise Clingan Brooke, descendant of the last Hopewell ironmaster's family, nearly $87,000 for about 4,000 acres of land, including the historic Hopewell Furnace buildings and village. The federal government intended to use the site as a component of the Civilian Conservation Corps' Recreation Demonstration Area and initially had no intention of establishing a national historic site. Additional purchases brought the federally owned acreage in and around Hopewell to a total of 6,000 acres. National Park Service historians recognized the importance of the old furnace ruins and convinced the Department of the Interior that they should be preserved and reconstructed. In 1938, the Acting Secretary of the Interior designated a portion of the land acquired for the French Creek Recreation Demonstration Area as Hopewell Village National Historic Site. The National Park Service set the current site boundaries in 1946, and the name was changed to Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site in 1985.

Today Hopewell's visitors can explore the best-preserved 18th and 19th century iron-making community in North America. The impressive blast furnace and 30-foot water wheel, ironmaster's mansion, workers' quarters, a living farm, charcoal maker's hut (otherwise known as a collier's hut), and other structures illustrate the historic infrastructure typical of the charcoal-iron making process. More than 50 of Hopewell's structures are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and the park's museum contains nearly 300,000 artifacts and archival items related to the site's history.

What today's visitors will not find are the noise, heat, and pollution that were ever-present in the community during the heyday of iron production. Instead, they must rely on the park's education programs and their imaginations to understand what life was like at Hopewell. Living history programs have been very popular at the park. Hopewell's costumed employees and volunteers more effectively communicate what life was like in this rural industrial community. Unfortunately, cumulative funding constraints have forced the park to severely limit its living history programs, reducing its ability to educate visitors.


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