Catherine Furnace

Location: Two and one half miles northwest of Grove Hill (Page County).

Built: 1840


Prior to 1833: George Price.

1833 - 1834: Jacob Conrad Deed Book B, page 121

1834 - 1837: Samuel Gibson Deed Book B, page 121

1837 - 1867: Forrer Gibson & Forrer Deed Book C, page 337, Deed Book C, page 340

1867 - 1871: William Milnes, Sr., John Milnes, John Milnes, Thomas Johns and William Milnes, Jr. of the Shenandoah Iron Works Deed Book M, page 292

1871 - 1889: Shenandoah Iron Lumber Mining Manufacturing Company

1889 - 1900: Shenandoah Furnace Company Deed Book 43, page 399

1900 - 1902: Empire Steel Company Deed Book 49, page 162

1902 - 1915: Allegheny Iron and Ore Company Deed Book 70, page 408

1915 - : United States of America for George Washington National Forest

Physical Description

Catherine furnace is built of rock in a pyramid shape being about 20x20 feet at the base with four large doors on each side about 20 feet tall and about 10x10 feet at top covered with a flat rock roof.

Historical Significance

In 1837, two men came to the Shenandoah Valley prospecting for a country rich in iron ore. After looking over the beautiful mountains of the Blue Ridge and Massanutten, and carefully inspecting and surveying the country, they decided they had found the place they were looking for. They founded the town they named Forge and returned to Pennsylvania. Those two men were Mr. Henry Forrer and Mr. Daniel Forrer. That same year, they returned with Mr. John McKerning and purchased a large tract of land. Mr. McKerning soon built the Catherine Furnace near the foot of the Massanutten Mountains on the banks of Cub Run. Soon thereafter, Catherine Furnace began operations.

The furnace was built near a large ore deposit. Not long after this, another large ore deposit was discovered three miles south of Catherine Furnace near Pitt Springs. This was thought to be an inexhaustible deposit, but, of course it was not.

The furnace was operated partly by slaves. Mr. McKerning would go east to near Gordonsville and contract with their masters for their labor for one year at a time.

The capacity of the furnace was three tons of pig iron each 24 hours. The iron was then molded partly into forges and the rest in pig iron. This iron was in turn hauled to the mouth of Cub Run and loaded onto flat bottom boats in the Shenandoah River. From here, it was shipped to Harpers Ferry and other points.

After operating this furnace for some years, the company began to expand. In 1845, they built #2 furnace five miles southeast of the forge and began to operate it.

The company seemed to be successful, and during the Civil War, they molded cannon balls for the Confederate Army at #2 furnace. Shortly after the end of the war, in 1865, Milnes, Fields and Johns came to the Shenandoah Valley. Upon learning of the great success of Catherine Furnace, they decided to purchase 32,000 acres of land and the furnaces. At this point, Mr. William Milnes began operating the furnaces.

Seeing that the capacity of the furnaces was too small, Milnes decided that a larger furnace and a roller mill were needed. In 1870, they build the Big Gem Furnace in the town of Forge (now Shenandoah) with a capacity of about 100 tons of steel each 24 hours. Soon the little town was thriving with a fine roller mill industry.

Milnes and company still did not like the name of the town, so in 1884, the town was incorporated and the name was changed to Milnes, in honor of Mr. William Milnes, Jr., founder of the Big Gem Furnace. Still, they were not satisfied with the town's name. Mr. Milnes was a member of Congress and through an act of Congress, 20 Mar 1890, the name was changed to Shenandoah, meaning "daughters of the stars" or "daughters of the skies", an Indian name.

About the end of the Civil War, Mr. McKerning leased the furnace to Noah Foltz for a very short time and then it was leased to Boston Propps for another very short period. Foltz and Propps not being very experienced in operating furnaces, their time soon expired.

The Big Gem Furnace was too expensive to operate in the late 1880's with the heavy expense of the company and the small profit on steel. In 1907, the company ceased to operate. All that was left by 1937 was the site in South Shenandoah.

Source: Virginia W.P.A. Historical Inventory Project, 1937

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Created October 12 2001