The Maryland Iron Festival: Explore the Iron Road

Click here to register for complimentary tickets! 

The Catoctin Furnace Historical Society will present the 3rd annual Maryland Iron Festival online during the weekend of May 22-23, 2021. In partnership with Cunningham Falls State Park, Catoctin Mountain Park, Frederick County Public Libraries, Visit Frederick, and PopUp Frederick, this free event will “transport” you to the historic iron furnaces featured in our new Iron Road driving tour brochure and to Catoctin Furnace, Maryland where you will experience tours, demonstrations, lessons, music, artisans, craftspeople, archaeology, and history. The Maryland Iron Festival will commemorate the state as a center for the craft of ironmaking and explore the contributions of ironmaking sites from across Maryland and Pennsylvania. The festival will feature traditional blacksmithing, period music, traditional food preparation demonstrations, garden and trail tours, artisan demonstrations, children’s activities, fascinating archaeology talks about the amazing discoveries at Catoctin Furnace, and more. There will be some Live and Interactive Sessions!


Visitors can also enjoy a virtual tour of the newly installed Catoctin Furnace African American Cemetery Interpretive Trail wayside panels. The trail links the furnace to the historic village and to an overlook near the Catoctin Furnace Cemetery. The Catoctin Furnace was built by workers owned or employed by the four Johnson brothers and produced iron from the rich deposits of iron ore found in the nearby mountains. At least 271 enslaved people of African ancestry made up the bulk of Catoctin Furnace’s earliest workers.


In the decade before the Civil War, European immigrants began replacing the enslaved and freed African American workers as it was more economical to hire cheap labor than support an enslaved workforce. Descendants of the immigrants still live in the village. The iron furnace at Catoctin played a pivotal role during the industrial revolution in the young United States. The furnace industry supported a thriving community, and company houses were established alongside the furnace stack. Throughout the nineteenth century, the furnace produced iron for household and industrial products. After more than one hundred years of operation, the Catoctin Furnace ceased production in 1903. In 1973, the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society was formed by G. Eugene Anderson, Clement E. Gardiner, J. Franklin Mentzer, and Earl M. Shankle to “foster and promote the restoration of the Catoctin Furnace Historic District…and to maintain the same exclusively for educational and scientific purposes…to exhibit to coming generations our heritage of the past.” 


Today, the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society is undertaking groundbreaking research, including bioarchaeological research of the African American cemetery in Catoctin Furnace. In partnership with the Smithsonian Institution and the Reich Laboratory for Medical and Population Genetics at Harvard University, this project is analyzing ancient DNA and the human genome of revolutionary-era enslaved African American workers at Catoctin Furnace. Such research, in conjunction with other technologies such as stable isotope analysis, could tell us where these workers were born, where they lived throughout their lives, and what constituted their diet. We believe that every life mattered, and every past matters now. By studying and disseminating the results of this research, we hope that people everywhere will get to meet some of these early workers and understand the critical roles they played in the development of our young nation, as well as appreciate the rich, varied trajectories of their lives.