Principio Furnace

Principio Furnace and village is in Cecil County, Maryland, 4 miles (6.4 km) northeast of Havre de Grace, MD.

Principio Furnace
Principio Furnace Office Apr 10.JPG
Principio Furnace Office Structure, April 2010
Principio Furnace is located in Maryland
Principio Furnace
Principio Furnace is located in the United States
Principio Furnace
Nearest cityPerryville, Maryland
Coordinates39°34′38″N 76°02′11″W / 39.57722°N 76.03639°W / 39.57722; -76.03639Coordinates: 39°34′38″N 76°02′11″W / 39.57722°N 76.03639°W / 39.57722; -76.03639
Area185 acres (75 ha)
NRHP reference No.72000575[1]
Added to NRHPFebruary 11, 1972

The Principio Iron Works were started here in 1719 by Joseph Farmer with British capital and an ironmaster, John England, who made it one of the most successful in the colonial ironworks by the 1740s, producing pig iron for sale in London. Thomas Russell, Jr., England's successor, produced cannonballs for the Continental Army during the Revolution.[2]

The works were part of the (larger) Principio Company, whose other holdings included the Accokeek or Potomac Ironworks on the land of George Washington's father, Augustine Washington (north of Ferry Farm near Fredericksburg, Virginia). This works was developed by the ironmaster England originally as a source of iron ore. As early as 1726, it may have included a cold blast charcoal furnace. Accokeek/Potomac served as the headquarters of the Principio Company until it was closed sometime in the mid-1750s.

The Maryland works were destroyed by the British in 1813.

In 1836, the site and its ruined buildings were purchased by Joseph Whitaker, his brothers George Price Whitaker and Joseph Whitaker II, and partners Thomas Garrett (a prominent abolitionist) and William Chandler. The site still had water power; more importantly, it was crossed by the freshly laid tracks of the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad. (Chandler was a director of the company.[3]) The investors rebuilt the iron works and resumed production, opening a new blast furnace in 1837 and other improvements over the decades.

A scene of the activity at the furnace, published by a lithographer from Philadelphia, shows two chimneys and wooden railings around their base level atop the two-story bloomery. Two insets depict the open-pit mines where workers load carts with ore.

Before the Civil War, the Whitakers divided their holdings geographically, with Joseph receiving the Pennsylvania properties and George Price the Maryland and Virginia ones. George Price Whitaker and his descendants continued to be involved in the iron and steel business; their holdings became part of the Wheeling Steel Company in 1921, and eventually of Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel.[4]

The site produced iron until 1925. Part of the stone furnace still remains on the site. In 1972, Principio Furnace was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[1]



  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ Mrs. Preston Parish (June 1971). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Principio Furnace" (PDF). Maryland Historical Trust. Retrieved 2016-01-01. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ Wilson, William Bender (1895). History of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company with Plan of Organization, Portraits of Officials and Biographical Sketches. 1. Philadelphia: Henry T. Coates & Company. pp. 296–299. Retrieved November 25, 2012. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ Historical Society of Cecil County, "Principio", Milt Diggins Archived 2011-08-12 at the Wayback Machine
  • Gordon, Robert B. 1996 American Iron 1607-1900. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  • May, Earl Chapin 1945 Principio to Wheeling: 1715-1945 A Pageant of Iron and Steel. Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York and London.
  • Robbins, Michael 1972 'The Principio Company: Iron-Making in Colonial Maryland, 1720-1781'. Unpublished paper. George Washington University, Washington.
  • Robbins, Michael 1986 The Principio Company : iron-making in colonial Maryland, 1720-1781. Garland, New York
  • Whitely, William G. 1887 'The Principio Company. A Historical Sketch of the First Iron-Works in Maryland'. The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography XI:63-68, 190-198, 288-295. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

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