What does this storehouse in rural America have to do with Benjamin Franklin? The answer is that this was the site of the forge and furnace built in 1727 by the Durham Iron Company. It’s located at Durham, a leafy little community in the heart of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, about 12 miles from the old steel town of Bethlehem.
I took the photograph while on a research trip in the spring of 2015.
As a young printer and journalist in Philadelphia in the 1720s and 1730s, Franklin had close ties with the people who created the region’s early iron and steel industry. Among his friends and business clients were the principal investors in the Durham project. It was through connections such as these that Franklin began to see how science and technology could be harnessed for the betterment of America.
Here’s what’s left of the Durham iron works: across the street from the storehouse, the mouth of an old iron mine. Durham sits on a hillside above the Delaware river, and beneath the surface of the hill was a thick layer of ore.
As you can see, today the mine serves a different purpose.
You’ll find Franklin’s involvement with iron and steel discussed in my book Young Benjamin Franklin. It led to one of his most famous creations: the Pennsylvania fireplace of 1740, better known as the Franklin stove. Of which more below.
Next come some images of the place where the Franklin fireplace was first manufactured. Hidden away in a wooded valley in Chester County, Pennsylvania, 40 miles from downtown Philadelphia, this is the site of the Warwick blast furnace. The iron master here was one of Franklin’s closest friends, Robert Grace, a member of Franklin’s famous Junto. Grace was also Franklin’s landlord at his home and printing works in the city.
The building on the right was the iron master’s home, and the furnace itself was located on the left, next to the intersection.
What remains of the furnace must be concealed in the undergrowth behind the sign. A point to bear in mind: at Pennsylvania’s early iron works, the laborers were either indentured servants, working without wages in return for their passage from the British Isles or Germany, or they were African slaves. Franklin’s newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, frequently carried advertisements for the recapture of slaves or bondservants who had run away from places such as Warwick.
For more about runaways, you might want to look at David Waldstreicher’s penetrating book from 2005, Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution.