Buena Vista Furnace
Buena Vista Furnace during horse and buggey days.
Located in Brush Valley Township, along Black Lick Creek, about a half a mile downstream from the Route 56 Bridge is the Buena Vista Furnace. Locals Henry T. McClelland, Stephen Alexander Johnston, and Elias B. McClelland decided to erect the structure to help produce pig-iron for the local steel mills.
The story begins on April 29, 1847, when the partners obtained a deed to a tract of about 90 acres for the sum of $300. By December, the partnership acquired additional land totaling 421 acres.
If you know some American history, Buena Vista will be familiar to you as a battle in the Mexican War. This battle occurred on February 22-23, 1847, when Santa Ana’s 14,000 Mexican troops met Zachary
Taylor’s 5,000-man army near the small hacienda of Buena Vista, Mexico.
Taylor’s troops were inexperienced and badly outnumbered, but the two armies fought to a draw. Thanks to Taylor’s efforts at Buena Vista, he won fame that later contributed to his presidential victory in the 1848 election. This battle is the namesake for the furnace.
Operations began in 1848 with about 61 men and boys and 30 mules employed. The site contained a store, three houses, seven log cabins (called furnace houses), a blacksmith shop, two log barns, and a sawmill.
There was speculation in 1848 that the Pennsylvania Railroad would construct a line through the Blacklick Valley, which is likely the reason why the site was chosen for the furnace. However, the railroad was not constructed in this area until 1903, and by that time the Buena Vista Furnace was already out of business.
The furnace was a 30-foot-tall cold blast furnace, and used local iron ore, limestone, and charcoal to produce about 400 tons of pig iron in 1848, but the furnace went out of blast a year later.
In 1850, the Indiana County Sheriff seized the 822-acre property and sold at it at Sheriff’s sale. The deed was transferred to Dr. Alexander Johnston, father of Stephen Johnston. The property consisted of 822-acres which included the furnace, a sawmill, seven small frame and log dwelling houses called “furnace houses” and various other structures. The furnace produced 560-tons of iron out of shell and bog ore in 1854 but closed two year later ending the business after 10 years of production.
Another change in ownership came in 1900, when Stephen Johnston sold a 67-acre parcel which included the Buena Vista Furnace to Judge A.V. Barker for $20,000. Barker then sold it and other properties to the Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company in 1902. The property passed ownership again to the Vinton Colliery Company in 1917.
There was a rumor in the 1930s that Henry Ford had an interest in purchasing the Buena Vista Furnace and planned to transport it to Greenfield Village in Michigan via rail. The proximity of the furnace to the railroad would have made dismantling and loading it relatively easy. However, there was then a movement to acquire the furnace and keep it in the local area.
In 1930, the Buena Vista Park Association organized with the purpose of preventing the furnace from being moved. There was hope the state would acquire the property and turn it into a historical landmark or public park for local use. As with most projects during the Great Depression, the establishment of the park was stalled.
Buena Vista Furnace at the present time.
The Historical Society purchased the furnace in 1957 from the Delano Coal Company. Through the efforts of Clarence Stephenson improvements to the site began in the mid-1960s. In the summer of 1965 and continuing through 1967, a work-training project completed site improvements. Today the property is leased to the Indiana County Parks Service.