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Industrial complex restored

January 13, 2008|By PAT SCHOOLEY

A dilapidated complex of buildings sat on the on the south side of Harpers Ferry Road near the four-arch stone Antietam Iron Works Bridge. Wayne McCrossin, then a resident of Westminster, Md., saw the buildings for the first time on his way to visit relatives in the early 1980s. McCrossin said to himself, "I should fix that place up."

He continued to say that each time he drove by the site by for the next 17 years. Finally he made an offer, and, in 1999, became the owner of part of the old Antietam Furnace.

The parcel's history goes way back in Maryland history. Situated on Antietam Creek near its juncture with the Potomac River, the land was part of a large parcel deeded to Israel Friend by Indians in 1727.

Iron manufacturing began in this area in 1765 when Joseph Chapline, Sharpsburg's founder, then owner of the land around the mouth of Antietam Creek, joined with Samuel Beall Jr., David Ross and Richard Henderson to build the first furnace and forge at this site. The Hughes brothers, Daniel and Samuel, gained control of this ironworks just before the Revolutionary War and manufactured pig iron there. After the start of war, they manufactured cannon for the Continental Army.

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In 1831, a nail factory was set up, followed by a second charcoal furnace. In 1857, this furnace produced 1,465 tons of iron in one 20-week period. Subsequent additions included a sawmill, a forge with six heating fires and a 21-ton hammer, a rolling mill which produced plates, rods, nail stock and bar iron, and a merchant grist mill - all powered by Antietam Creek.

The main part of Antietam Iron Works lay on the north side of the road. Its dam stood at a small hump in the road, holding back a 63-acre lake which fueled the millrace that ran along Harpers Ferry Road.

The 18th-century industrial complex is much reduced in size. The most easterly structure on McCrossin's three-plus acres is one of the furnaces. Next to it is a small story-and-a-half brick house, its front wall broken away and leaning forward. Beside that is a two-and-a-half story, two-part brick building, standing on tall stone foundation walls.

This brick building has three bays with a one-and-a-half story brick wing, once used as a store, attached to its west end. When he first saw it, McCrossin found old wooden counters standing before ranks of shelves and drawers.

A small iron bar was elevated above the front of the counter, placed there to keep goods from slipping to the floor. A trapdoor opened to the cellar level. Behind the building, a cliff rose just two feet away. No interior stairs accessed the second floor; rather, steps rose on the north side of the building and, up the cliff, a path led to a footbridge which crossed to a door entering the upper floor.

Wayne McCrossin is not a man of small measures. When he set about renovating the building, he removed everything from the interior of the building and stored it. Then he removed the roof. He hauled 6,000 gallons of water to the site, power-washed the interior of the structure and let it dry. Then he hauled another 6,000 gallons and did it again. Finally all the filth and mold had washed away, and he began to put the building back together again. Only later did he drill a 350-foot well.

He started with a Caterpillar loader and cut back the cliff behind the building, lowering and leveling as he went, creating terraces both small and large around and behind the former store.

Carpenter bees had consumed most of the exterior trim and fascia boards of the building, but left enough to serve as guides for restoring it. McCrossin replicated each piece, each 32-degree angle, and every molding shape to recreate the original mid-19th-century building.

In the basement, he leveled the floor. Finding a stubborn vein of stone that would not submit to jackhammer or any of the tools he brought to the task, he made the floor two levels by adding a broad step the length of the room. He installed a circular staircase. First-floor joists - logs flattened top and bottom - form the basement ceilings. Basement floors are now covered with exposed aggregate.

Both basement rooms have newly constructed stone fireplaces fitted with gas logs replacing the iron stoves that once heated the area. At one time, the local post office operated out of this space, its double doors secured with a wooden bar across its frame and iron bars on the windows. The iron bars still protect the windows, and the door can still be locked down with its heavy timber bar.

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