Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The History of Lyon County Kentucky - Part 2

Eddyville continued to grow rapidly. Lyon established a large boatyard on the bank of the river and manufactured boats and secured contracts to make boats for the U.S. Government. Farm products, especially tobacco from the present day areas of Princeton, Fredonia, Lamasco and as far away as Madisonville, were brought by wagon to Eddyville and placed in warehouses to be shipped down the river to New Orleans.

The oldest established public road in Lyon County was the Varmet [Varmint?] Trace road. It started at Princes Place at the big spring, now Princeton, and followed the general corridor of present-day U.S. 62 to the present day community of Fairview and Shelbys pond. From there it took a westerly route to the Cumberland River and on to [a line of text is missing from the printing] second oldest road was from Princes Place to Eddyville.

The lower Cumberland River basis [sic-basin] has been blessed by nature with large deposits of iron ore lying almost on top of the ground. Present day Lyon County, entered into the era of the iron industry. Two iron barons, Thomas Watson and Samuel Stacker, built an iron furnace on Knob Creek in 1832. It was two miles northwest of Eddyville and was called the Eddyville furnace.

There was an abundance of the three raw materials necessary for the production of pig iron: namely, iron ore, limestone rock and hardwood timber for the making of charcoal for fuel.

From 1832 until 1880, present day Lyon County was a beehive of activity related to the production and shipping of iron. In 1845 the Fulton Furnace was built and put into production by Thomas Watson and Daniel Hillman. Mammoth Furnace was built in 1845 by Charles and John Stracker [sic]. The Suwanee Furnace was built by William Kelly about 1851.

In addition to the iron furnaces operating in the area, there were two other related operations. The Tennessee Rolling Mill was moved from Nashville to near Eddyville on the Cumberland River. Here pig iron from nearby blast furnaces was processed into boiler plate sheets, beams and other usable iron products shipped all over the country. Boiler makers sought boiler plate from the Cumberland Basin because of its superior quality. The Tennessee Rolling Mills was later sold to the L.P. Edward Iron Company.

In 1846-47, at the present site of old Kuttawa, William Kelly built the New Union Forge. Here pig iron was made into usable iron products. Kelly’s main operation was the manufacture of all kinds and sizes of kettles. Here thousands of large kettles that were cast were shipped to the southern sugar producing belt.

Lyon County holds the title and honor of being the birthplace of steel, the invention that moved the country and the world from the iron age to the steel age.

William Kelly was born in Pittsburgh in 1811. He graduated from college with a degree in metallurgy. Kelly went into the mercantile business with his brothers. There [sic] warehouses burned but were rebuilt. Kelly made a trip to Nashville to buy stock and equipment for the new stores.

Here he met Mildred Gracey who was the daughter of N.J. Gracey, a wealthy businessman from Eddyville. Mildred was attending a girls finishing school. She and William soon married and chose Eddyville as their home.

Kelly secured enough capital to go into the iron business. He bought the Eddyville Furnace and constructed the Suwanee Furnace and the New Union Forge. Up until this time, steel was made only by the long and expensive process of heating in a forge and hammering. By accident, Kelly conceived the idea that a blast of cold air could be forced through the molten iron to produce instant steel.

Kelly developed a converter, an egg shaped barrel into which he poured molten iron. He developed an air compressor to force air into the bottom of the converter. As Kelly experimented with his ideas, his friends called him crazy. His father-in-law, Mr. Gracey, wanted to have him committed to a mental institution. The family doctor, Dr. George M. Huggins, was called upon to render a judgment on Kelly’s sanity. Dr. Huggins called Kelly’s mental faculties normal and further stated that the process he espoused had merit. (See related story on the Huggins house.)

In 1856 William Kelly called together a group of ironmasters and other interested persons. There he demonstrated his “Pneumatic Process”, known today as the “Bessmer [sic] Process”. At his own Suwanee Furnace he poured molten iron into his converter and forced blasts of air into the bottom. After the flames, sparks and smoke stopped coming from the top of the converter, Kelly poured a small amount of molten iron into a cooling tray.

After it cooled, a blacksmith took a portion of the steel, fashioned a horseshoe and nails, and nailed the shoe onto the hoof of a horse. There is positive proof that William Kelly developed the Pneumatic Process before Sir Henry Bessemer, however, Bessemer applied for a patent before Kelly.

The last furnace to operate in the area was the Center Furnace which closed in 1812 [sic-1912]. [http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WM3H5T ] Lyon County stood tall in the iron industry for nearly 100 years. [ http://kentucky.gov/kyhs/hmdb/MarkerSearch.aspx?mode=Subject&subject=17]

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