Jul 28, 2014

Northampton County's 19th Century Iron Rush

Among the local companies founded during and after the Civil War were the Saucona Iron Company and the Coleraine Iron Company.

Northampton County's 19th Century Iron Rush

Many locals have been bewildered by the difference between the Saucon Iron Company and the Saucona Iron Company. Over the years I have known of at least two people. Allow me to clarify clearly once and for all. For you doubters out there, of course I'm promoting interest in local history and my next book. Smoke that in your pipes, but avoid polluting the neighborhood.

As the reader knows, this writer is rather good at digging himself a deeper hole as he goes. However, these three fine fellows are better: Benjamin LeRoy Miller, Donald McCoy Fraser and Ralph LeRoy Miller. The first penned "Geology and Geography," the second "Pre-Cambrian Geology" and the third "Jacksonburg Formation," all relating to Northampton County, in 1939. This light reading was published by the Department of Internal Affairs, Harrisburg. I believe that my great-grandfather, Dr. Charles Waidner, was affiliated with Internal Affairs of Pennsylvania, but that's another story, to be revealed in "Saucon Secrets, Vol. 2."

Here we consider the "History of Iron in Eastern Pennsylvania." As far back as 1698, iron deposits in Durham were guarded by Native Americans. William Penn purchased this land from them after it had been surveyed by Jacob Taylor in 1701. A bloomery was established north of Nazareth in 1805 and went to blast in 1809 using local limonite ore. In 1824 Mather Henry erected a furnace which went to blast the following year utilizing hematite ore. During the decade following 1830 many limonite mines were dug along the south side of the Lehigh River between Bethlehem and Easton. Then occurred a milestone in 1840--the Lehigh Iron Company of Catasauqua began using anthracite (hard coal) rather than charcoal to produce its product. From 1840 to 1850 many iron furnaces appeared from Coplay to Easton.

Then the Saucona Iron Company began working the Gangewere Mine in Saucon Valley. This company later decided to build a furnace in South Bethlehem. The business changed its name to Bethlehem Rolling Mills and Iron Company but due to financial problems did not start until 1861. The name was altered again to the Bethlehem Iron Company and was not able to produce until 1863, having been interrupted by the start of the Civil War.

In 1868 the Northampton Iron Company built a furnace near Freemansburg and merged with Bethlehem Iron. Furthermore, long before 1948, this, of course, had become Bethlehem Steel, and by 1948 they no longer used local ores.

In 1869 Coleraine Iron Company at Redington was being operated by William T. Carter and Company of Philadelphia. By this time there were four mines in Northampton County and three in Berks.

South of Island Park along the Lehigh the Keystone Furnace started construction in June of 1873 and went to blast in April, 1876. However, this was purchased by Thomas Iron Company in 1882. By this time there were two iron companies, one by Hellertown called Saucon Iron and one in nearby Bingen in Lower Saucon. The first had gone to blast on March 25, 1868, and the second was run by the North Pennsylvania and Philadelphia and Reading Railroad. Both iron companies were sold to Thomas Iron Co. on Dec. 13, 1884.

Further differences between Saucon Iron Company and Saucona Iron Company are found in "The History of Northampton County, Pennsylvania," published in 1877. Also, differing and additional historical data may be uncovered here regarding these companies. Good luck untying the "Gordian Knot" of local history without burying yourself in the hole you dig in so doing.

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