Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ethan Allen Iron Maker and Patriot

One of the early figures that had a prominant plaqce in the iron industry in Salisbury was Ethan Allen who became famous for lwading the Green Mountain Boys to take Fort Ticonderoga in the early days of the Revolutionary War on Lake Champlain. If Allen hadn't taken Fort Ticonderoga he would still be remembered as aa pioneer of American Industry for the blast furnace that he built in Lakeville at the outlet of Lake Wononskopomuc. At the time the furnace was erected Lakeville was known by the name Furnace Village after the iron furnace built by Allen and his partners.

Ethan Allen was born in Litchfield, Connecticut on January 21, 1738 to Joseph and Mary Baker Allen. Two years later the Allen family moved to Cornwell where Joseph Allen became a prosperous farmer. In addition to Ethan who was their oldest child the Allen's had an additional seven children. Ethan was the oldest, and he used to call his younger brothers and sisters the "Seven little devils."

Ethan was slated to go on to Yale College in New Haven when his father died unexpectedly ending Ethan's chances of going to Yale. For the next few years he had to return to Cornwell to run the family farm for his mother until some of his younger brothers were able to take over the job of operating the farm. When that happened he was free to undertake other projects. The first thing he did was establish a forge in the Lime Rock District of Salisbury. Later in 1763 with Samuel Forbes of East Canaan and John Hazeltine of Hartford he built a blast furnace in what is now Lakeville. Allen owned one-eighth share of the furnace with John Hazeltine being the largest stockholder and principle financier.

Ethan Allen stood according to reports six feet four inches tall, and like many big men he often entertained big thoughts or took place in big projects the iron furnace in Lakeville was only the first of them. The furnace built by Allen was the first to be built in Connecticut for more then eighty years after the one built by Connecticut's forst governor at the outlet of Lake Saltonstall in West Haven went out of blow for lack of ore. The furnce produced pig iron that was converted into wrought iron by blacksmiths as well as other cast iron products used on the farm or in the kitchen. One of these were large cauldrons used to boil wood ashes for extracting potash used to make soap.

The idea for a blast furnace was actually a product of Samuel Forbes based on the tremendous amount of rich ore available, the potential demand for iron products in the colonies, and the facts that there were several furnaces in blow in eastern Massachusetts that had been producing iron for the past 115 years from inferior ore, and no ready supply of limestone for flux. The iron furnaces at Saugus, Massachusetts and others used as flux an igenous rock that was rich in calcium that acted as flux, but not very well.

Forbes was already producing many products from his forge in East Canaan were mill irons including cranks, spindles, gears and screws. The list went on to the manufacture of ship's anchors, bellows pipes, hinges, logging chains, gun barrels, nail rods and nails. Beside that with his brother he had interests in Ore Hill in Salisbury. This was an iron mine in its almost 200 yar history produced more then 7,000,000 tons of iron ore.

It was in 1761 that Forbes met Ethan Allen a young giant from Cornwell that the idea for a blast furnace started to gell. At the time Allen was already a successful real estate speculator, an excellent orator with the ability to raise money. The member was John Hazeltine a prosperous merchant from Uxbridge, Massachusetts that also owned an iron forge. Hazeltine sent his son, Paul to look over the Salisbury area as a possible place to invest his father's money, and build a blast furnace.

By January 1762 John Hazeltine himself came to Salisbury where he met with Allen and the Forbses the upshot was an agreement to build the furnace. Allen and the Forbses built the furnace after obtaining the necessary water rights and a location for the new furnace. The ownership of the furnace was to Allen one eighth, to the Forbses one eighth and one half of an eighth anf to Hazeltine four eights. This agreement was dated January 18, 1762 and justice of the peace John Whitney signed the document attesting that the parties to the agreement had appeared before him.
Work continued apace through the spring and summer with Allen and the Forbes brothers finally putting the first blast furnace in northeastern Connecticut into blow.

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