The Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site in Elverson, Pennsylvania is an example of a 19th century American iron plantation.
Founded in 1771 by iron-master Mark Bird, the site is home to a blast furnace, blacksmith’s shop, company store and worker’s housing.
By transforming natural resources into various wares, iron plantations influenced significantly the industrial revolution in the United States. Hopewell was most prosperous between 1820 and 1840 and again during the Civil War. At its peak in 1893, some 5,152 cast iron stoves were produced.
Historians believe Hopewell and the surrounding area played an important role in the emancipation of slaves. As indicated by employee rolls found at the plantation by the National Park Service in the 1930s, the site was a stop on the Underground Railroad. Names like “Black Luce” and “X” appear on the rolls with very brief periods of employment. These interludes, it is thought, provided slaves an opportunity to earn money to continue their northbound journey. Slaves at Hopewell likely performed tasks ranging from the menial to the all-important work of operating the furnace.
Though they paid employees equal wages and opened a one-room school for black and white children—the first desegregated school in Pennsylvania—nothing in the records suggests the owners of Hopewell were abolitionists, but rather business people of the “don’t ask don’t tell” mindset of the time that ensured the success of their plantation.
A shift from coal to anthracite rendered Hopewell and similarly sized plantations obsolete in the late 1800s. Hopewell ceased operations in 1883.
Today the historic site features 14 restored structures and more than 800 acres of wooded land. It is surrounded by French Creek State Park on three sides and State Game lands on the other.
At the Philadelphia Flower Show, Temple University’s Department of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture invites guests to take a peek at what’s happened since the furnaces went cold by presenting After the Blast: Recollecting Roots and Resources at Hopewell Furnace. Experience native trees, flowers and ferns and consider how reclamation of industrial places preserves history and promotes a more sustainable future.