The Story Behind Buena Vista Furnace – Part II

Financial Troubles and Closing the Furnace

The following Sheriff’s Deed dated March 30, 1850 confirms the above statement that the furnace had “ill success.”

Gawin Sutton High Sheriff of Indiana county comes into court and acknowledges his Deed to Alexander Johnston for all the right title…(etc.) of H.T. M’Lelland, E.B. M’Lelland and Stephen A. Johnston of in and to the following described real estate…containing 100 acres more or less, one half of which is improved, having thereon erected a furnace called Buena Vista, a saw mill and two dwelling houses situated partly in Brushvalley and partly in Wheatfield township…bounded on the south by Blacklick creek and by lands of William Murphy, ———- Evans, Robert McCormick and Adam Altimus: Also one other tract of land containing 232 acres, more or less, having thereon erected three dwelling houses bounded on the east by lands of said M’Lellands and Johnston, on the west by Robert McCormick, and on the south by lands of James Campbell, situate in Brushvalley township…Also one other tract of land containing 300 acres, more or less, having thereon erected seven small frame and log dwelling houses, called furnace houses, bounded on the north by Blacklick creek, on the south by lands of James Campbell, situate in Wheatfield township…Also one other tract of land being parts of two larger tracts of land being parts of two larger tracts of land containing 100 acres, more or less, having thereon erected three small dwelling houses and two log barns, about 60 acres of which are improved, bounded on the south by Blacklick creek, on the east and south by lands of Joseph and Thomas Dias, on the north by lands of said M’Lellands and Johnston Situate in the township of Brushvalley in said county. Also one other tract of land situate in Brushvalley township, containing ninety acres, more or less, bounded on the east by lands of said M’Lellands and Johnston, on the south by lands of Christy Campbell, on the west by Brush creek and on the north by lands of Barnum.  Sold as the property of H.T. M’Lelland, E.B. M’Lelland and Stephen A. Johnston for the sum of $580.50.

The total acreage conveyed by Sheriff’s Deed amounted to 822 acres.  The saw mill mentioned in the Deed is probably the one on David Peelor’s 1856 map which may have been the source of the water to power the water wheel.  The two dwelling houses mentioned in the Deed and also shown on Peelor’s map were likely the Furnace Store and Boarding House referred to in the Day Books.  The “seven small frame and log dwelling houses, called furnace houses” are shown on Peelor’s map on the south bank of Black Lick Creek opposite the furnace, although Peelor indicates only four houses at this location.  Perhaps, in the six-year interval between 1850-58, three houses were dismantled or burned.

Dr. Alexander Johnston, father of Stephen A. Johnston, who thus became owner of Buena Vista Furnace and surrounding area, was born February 21, 1790 in Huntingdon County, a son of Rev. John Johnston, Presbyterian clergyman and Revolutionary War veteran.  Dr. Johnston was educated at Pennsylvania Medical College in Philadelphia and settled at Hollidaysburg where he practiced medicine.  Some time in the 1840s he came to Armagh but practiced very little in Indiana County.  A great-great-grandson, Zan Johnston of Armagh, has the doctor’s saddle bags.

It appears, if Samuel A. Douglass clerked at Buena Vista in 1851-52, that Dr. Johnston may have continued to operate the furnace for time but, finding it unprofitable, gave it up.  His son, Stephen A. Johnston, one of the three unfortunate partners, moved to a farm in Butler County “about 1852 at the closing of the old Buena Vista furnaces,” according to an obituary notice.  He returned to Armagh later and entered the mercantile business in partnership with his father-in-law, Alexander Elliott, whose daughter, Elizabeth Elliott, he had married on February 1, 1848.

Was Elias Baker leasing the Furnace?

This is an interesting bit of speculation which has to be posed as a question because of the lack of a definitive answer.  There are several bits of circumstantial evidence which suggest that Elias Baker, a noted ironmaster of Blair County whose home in Altoona is now owned by the Blair County Historical Society, was somehow concerned in the operations at Buena Vista Furnace following the failure of the McClelland-Johnston partners.

We have already noted that three Buena Vista Furnace Day Books, or store journals, are with Baker’s other extensive business records at the Baker Mansion.  This, in itself, lends some weight to the supposition that Baker may have been leasing the furnace.  We know that Baker never owned Buena Vista Furnace, but he did own the Baker Furnace, also known as the “Indiana Iron Works” located only a few miles away at Cramer, PA.  it has also been mentioned that one of the three unfortunate partners, Elias B. McClelland, was afterward employed at Baker’s Indiana Iron Works, possibly as a founder, until as late as 1859.

After the death of Dr. Johnston, an Inventory and Appraisement of his estate revealed that he was a man of considerable substance and the largest item of his estate was a $50,000 bond of the firm “Lloyd, Baker, McCauley & Lloyd.” A published “List of Dealers in Merchandize” in 1863 shows that “Indiana Furnace – Lloyd & Co.” was assessed a $7.00 mercantile license fee.  Here we have evidence that Dr. Johnston had a heavy investment in Baker’s iron enterprises.

It would appear likely that, after acquiring ownership of Buena Vista Furnace and the surrounding tract of 822 acres, Dr. Johnston would seek for experienced persons to operate it, and that he would turn to the firm of Lloyd, Baker, McCauley & Lloyd in which he had such a large financial interest.

Why Buena Vista Failed

It seems there were three principal reasons for the failure of Buena Vista Furnace: (1) The seemingly poor supply of iron ore at Buena Vista, and the need to waggon ore at Buena Vista, and the need to waggon ore supplies from the Dilltown area or perhaps float it downstream in scows and flatboats during season of high water. (2) The location of the Pennsylvania Railrood main line in the Conemaugh Valley instead of the valley of Black Lick Creek.  (3) The use of improved methods in iron making, was rapidly outmoding the methods used at Buena Vista. (4) The decline in the price of iron.  In 1849 the average price of a gross ton of the best charcoal pig iron sank to the lowest it had ever been – $24.50 for number one foundry iron, as compared with $53.75 in 1815.

Dr. Alexander Johnston and Stephen Alexander Johnston

Dr. Alexander Johnston was born February 21, 1790 in Huntingdon County, a son of Rev. John Johnston, Presbyterian clergyman and Revolutionary War veteran.  He was educated at Pennsylvania Medical College in Philadelphia and afterward settled in Hollidaysburg, PA where he practiced medicine.  Some time in the 1840s Dr. Johnston came to Armagh, but it is believed he practiced medicine very little here.  He and his wife, Elizabeth Lowry, had five children: John Lowry, Stephen Alexander, Mary, George, and James.

Dr. Johnston died at his home in Armagh on December 15, 1874.  By comparison with present standards, it is interesting to note that the total expenses of Dr. Johnston’s funeral were $79.00.  he is buried in Hollidaysburg.  His Will provided that his entire estate be divided between his three surviving children: John, Stephen, and Jane.  The Inventory and Appraisement of his estate showed he had a tiny fortune amounting to $105,643.19 in bonds and judgment notes, plus the house in Armagh valued at $1,000 and 656.5 acres, including Buena Vista Furnace, valued at $10 per acre or $6,565.

A map of these lands was made in 1875 by Thompson McCrea for a fee of $25, and at this time the Court found that Dr. Johnston’s lands “cannot be parted and divided to and amongst the heirs…without injury to or prejudice to or spoiling the whole thereof.”  On December 158, 1875 the Court awarded both the house in Armagh and the 656.5 acres along Black Lick Creek to Stephen A. Johnston, recognizing his claim “that the shares of the other heirs in the said real estate were paid to them in the division of the personal estate” of Dr. Johnston.

Stephen Alexander Johnston, second son of Dr. Johnston, and one of the three partners who had been sold out by the Sheriff in 1850, thus came into complete possession 25 years later.  Born June 30, 1820, he had married Elizabeth Elliott February 1, 1848 during the period when he and the McClellands were getting Buena Vista Furnace in operation.  After the partners were sold out, he went to Butler County where he had a farm.  Then about 1855 he returned to Armagh and went into the mercantile business with his father-in-law, Alexander Elliott.

On February 17, 1900 Stephen A. Johnston and wife sold the Buena Vista tract of 681 acres, 63 perches, to Judge A.V. Barker of Ebensburg for $20,000.

Stephen A. Johnston died October 23, 1904, aged 84 years.  He was the principal stock holder and the last living charter member of the Farmers Bank of Indiana, organized in 1876.

The Delano Coal Company

Judge Barker was apparently acting for the Lackawanna Iron and Steel Company in the purchase of the Buena Vista tract.  A 1901 news item noted that “The Lackawanna Steel Company itself, through Judge Barker, has bought over 20,000 acres of coal land in Indiana and Cambria counties during the past year.  Warren Delano and Moses Taylor, of New York, and Henry Wehrum, of Elmhurst, Lackawanna County, are the principal moving spirits in these latest developments.”  The mines and lands in and around Vintondale, Cambria County, were also purchased by the Lackawanna Iron & Steel Co.  Later the Delano Coal Company was organized as a subsidiary of Lackawanna Iron & Steel and title to the Buena Vista tract vested in it.  Barker transferred title to numerous tracts in Indiana County on July 28, 1902, including a parcel designated as no. 1 conveyed to Barker from Stephen A. Johnston.  The sale to the Lackawanna Coal & Coke Co. netted Barker $141,717.

Warren Delano III was the uncle of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  He lived at his estate, “Steen Valetje,” at Rhinebeck-on-Hudson in the summer and in winter at a house at the corner of Park Avenue and 36th Street, New York City.

There is a source that confirms in May 1920 Warren Delano III took his sisters, his children, his nephews and nieces to see his mines in Cambria County.  It is possible that Franklin Roosevelt accompanied his uncle, but it is not known for sure.  This presents another interesting speculation.  Could it be that Franklin Roosevelt might have visited Buena Vista Furnace?

Earl E. Hewitt Sr. recalled in an interview with the author that Warren Delano often came to the Vintondale vicinity where he had some horses stabled.  He usually stayed at a hotel in Johnstown.

Mr. Delano had been educated at a military school in Brattleboro, Vermont, and graduated from Harvard University, Class of 1874.  A lover of horses, he met a tragic death on September 9, 1920 when a spirited horse he was driving in a surrey to meet a group of friends at the railroad station in Barrytown, New York, bolted into the path of the locomotive.  By a strange coincidence, Franklin D. Roosevelt that very same afternoon was officially notified at his mother’s Hyde Park estate that he had received the Democratic nomination for Vice president of the United States.

C.M. Schwerin succeeded to the presidency of the Delano Coal Co. after Mr. Delano’s death.  Financial troubles beset the company during the Depression.  In 1940 Mr. Schwerin announced that the mines at Vintondale would not reopen, but the company was later reorganized and the mines reopened.

Buena Vista Furnace Park Association

During the period of the Depression a group of civic-minded persons conceived the idea of leasing or purchasing the site of Buena Vista Furnace in order to preserve the furnace as a historical landmark, and to create a public park.  Various meetings in 1930 resulted in the election of Assemblyman Charles R. Griffith of Marion Center as president of the Association; A.A. Cresswell, Johnstown, vice president; Mrs. G.M. Dias, Johnstown, secretary; and Royden Taylor, Indiana, treasurer.  The following Board of Trustees were named: Miss Florence M. Dibert, Attorney John H. Stephens, Attorney Harry Doerr, M.D. Bearer, and John H. Waters, all of Johnstown.  Charles M. Schwab, Loretto.  Assemblyman Elder Peelor, Indiana.  Earl E. Hewitt, Indiana.  M.C. Stewart, Brush Valley.  Postmaster Harry H. Wilson, Blairsville. John c. Thomas, Homer City. R.M. Mullen, Windber. State Senator Charles H. Ealy, Somerset. Rev. C.A. Waltman, Marion Center.

It was planned to later elect two additional trustees each from Clearfield, Jefferson, Armstrong, and Westmoreland Counties.  Five additional vice presidents were also to be chosen.

At first Mr. Griffith was authorized to enter into negotiations for a lease on the land, but when application for incorporation was made before Judge J.N. Langham on January 5, 1931 the stated object of the “Buena Vista Furnace Park Association” corporation was

The purchasing, holding and rehabilitating of the old Buena Vista Furnace and maintaining the same for historical and educational purposes, and as a public park; and to this end to purchase and hold necessary lands…and erect suitable buildings and improvements thereon.

The persons making application for the charter on behalf of the Association were Elder Peelor, C.R. Griffith, Thomas Pealer, A.A. Creswell, Mrs. G.M. Dias, Royden Taylor, and E.E. Hewitt.

The estimated cost of the project was about $3,000 and it was planned to appeal to the public for funds.  An effort was also to be made through Assemblymen Griffith and Elder Peelor to obtain State financial aid.

According to Mr. Hewitt, Henry Ford had made an effort at one time to secure Buena Vista Furnace for his Greenfield Village project.  The proximity of the furnace to the railroad would have facilitated dismantling and loading on railroad cars.  Perhaps it was Henry Ford’s interest in the furnace which sparked the movement to acquire the furnace and keep it in the local area.

Mr. Hewitt tells us the Association was unable to acquire Buena Vista Furnace in spite of very commendable efforts, because of litigation involving the Delano Coal Company which at that time precluded obtaining a clear title.  Probably another factor was that in 1930-31 the Depression had gripped the entire nation and economic conditions would have made the job of raising funds almost impossible.

Gift to the Historical Society

Eventually economic conditions improved and the tangled affairs of the Delano Coal co. were straightened out.  Mr. Hewitt was later elected to the General Assembly himself, and continued to take an interest in the Buena Vista Furnace park project.  To Mr. Hewitt belongs a great deal of the credit for negotiating with the officials of the Delano Coal Co. the transfer and gift of a 5.16-acre tract, including the furnace, to the Historical Society.

The deed was prepared November 1, 1957 and states that the Delano Coal Co. organized under the laws of the state of New York, and having its principal place of business at Great Neck, Long Island, New York, has authorized Francis T. Schwerin, Vice President of the company, to execute, acknowledge, and deliver the deed.  Gas, oil, coal, and mining rights were excepted and reserved.  On November 5 Mr. Schwerin appeared in person before Mr. Sylvia P. Hagney, notary Public of Indiana, PA to formally concluded the transaction.  The Deed was recored the next day November 6.

The Story Behind Buena Vista Furnace – Part I

Origins

On February 22 and 23, 1847, United States troops under the command of General Zachary Taylor defeated a much larger Mexican force at a hard-fought battle three miles north of the hacienda of Buena Vista (Fair View).  Excitement over this event resulted in the naming of Buena Vista Furnace.  Exactly when construction of the furnace began, or when it was named, is not known.  The partners in the enterprise were Henry T. McClelland, Elias B. McClelland, and Stephen Alexander Johnston, who obtained a deed on April 29, 1847 to a tract of about 90 acres along Black Lick Creek for a consideration of $300 paid to William Jonas of Somerset County.  The deed describes the tract as being situated on both sides of Black Lick Creek.  Here on the north bank of the creek between Armagh and Brush Valley and within sight of the Route 56 highway bridge over the creek, Buena Vista Furnace was erected.

Almost nothing is known of the McClellands.  One source credits Henry McClelland with the construction of the furnace.  Elias B. McClelland was employed at Elias Baker’s “Indiana Iron Works” in East Wheatfield Township not long after he left Buena Vista Furnace.  His wife “Sallie” or Sarah had literary inclinations and wrote five short stories and a poem which were published in the Indiana Weekly Register during 1857-59.  A daughter, Ella, nearly three years old, died October 8, 1857.

Stephen Alexander Johnston, son of Dr. Alexander Johnston and Elizabeth (Lowry) Johnston, was born June 30, 1820 in or near Hollidaysburg, Blair County.  At age 12 he clerked in the store of John Bell at Bellwood, Pa.  He apparently came to Armagh with his father prior to 1847.

Buena Vista and the Central Railroad

It appears that one of the factors which decisively influenced the decision to build Buena Vista Furnace was the prospect that the route of the railroad from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, which later was the Pennsylvania Railroad, would go through the valley of Black Lick Creek rather than the Conemaugh River.  As early as November 21, 1845 a meeting was held in Blairsville of persons “favorable to the construction of a continuous Rail Road from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, by way of the Juniatta and Blacklick, vallies, as surveyed by Col. Schlatter, and recommended to the Pennsylvania Legislature.”  Shares of stock in the proposed railroad were sold in Blairsville and Indiana during August 1846.  The next year the little village of Mechanicsburg – now Brush Valley – took advantage of what seemed like excellent prospects for a railroad to promote itself.  It had been laid out in September 1833 by John Taylor on behalf of Robert McCormick, who also owned some of the land adjoining Buena Vista Furnace.  Although Buena Vista Furnace had not yet been built at the time of the following advertisement dated February 3, 1847, it is possible McCormick may have had some advance knowledge of the plans of the McClellands and S.A. Johnston.  A sale of lots in Mechanicsburg, with six to nine months credit, was to be held April 1, 1847:

Mechanicsburg is situated in one of the best settlements in the county, and directly on the route intended for the CENTRAL RAILROAD – surrounded by IRON WORKS – it affords a first rate market for Country produce.

On March 1, 1848 a meeting of citizens of Indiana County favorable to the Black Lick route was held at the Court House in Indiana.  Archibald Stewart served as chairman of the meeting.  A Mr. Gallagher who had examined the proposed route through the Black Lick Valley reported that “the route of a Rail Road located by Mr. Roebling, principal assistant Engineer to Mr. Schlatter” was “very favorable for Rail Road purposes.”  The meeting named a committee to procure subscriptions to the stock of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company “contingent upon the adoption by that company of the route above referred to,” the newspaper report stated.  One of those named to this committee was Elias B. McClelland, one of the Buena Vista partners, and another was David Stewart, proprietor of Black Lick Furnace.

More Land Purchased

The partnership acquired additional land for their proposed operations.  On May 21, 1847 after the store on the original tract had begun to operate – and probably after furnace construction had begun – another tract of 100 acres in Brush Valley Township adjoining the first was purchased from Thomas Martin for $1,000.  This tract included Martin’s dwelling and other buildings.  On December 3, 1847 a third tract was acquired by purchase ($1,000) from Adam Altimus of Center Township.  It was described as “Situate on Blacklick Creek in Brushvalley Township…Part being in Wheatfield township.”  This brought the partnership’s land holdings to 421 acres.  Because of the need for large acreages of timber to furnish wood for charcoaling, it was necessary for furnace proprietors to have large tracts of woodland.

The Day Books

In the Baker Mansion, home of the Blair County Historical Society, are three Buena Vista Furnace Day Books which, when examined, turned out to be store journals.  “S.A. Johnston” is written on the inside cover of Day Book Number 1.  The first account is dated May 7, 1847 only nine days after the furnace tract was acquired.  Work on the furnace presumably began shortly afterward.  There are four entries under this date to Samuel Singer, William G. Stewart, Thomas Martin, and E.B. McClelland ($3.82 for alpaca, gingham, pants, ribbon, bottle of cologne, and Japan writing box).

On May 10, 1847 and numerous times thereafter were accounts marked “Boarding House,” indicating there was on the site a boarding house to accommodate the laborers.

A few selected entries from these Day Books will throw an occasional bit of light on activities in the furnace area.

June 28, 1847 “William Felton. Moving Exps. from Blacklick Furnace to Armagh. $2.00

July 10, 1847 “Improvements” including 5 shovels $1.00, 1 curry comb 19 cents, 3 door handles 94 cents, 10 doz. “Lights Glafs” (glass panes) $5.00, 4 doz. Screws 50 cents, 1 lb. “Rock Powder” 38 cents, ¼ lb. gun powder 13 cents, 5 “Norfolk Latches” 94 cents

July 12, 1847 “Boarding House” 27 food items $10.84, including 4 chickens 32 cents, 4 doz. Eggs 25 cents

August 2, 1847 “Smith Shop” 1 “Large Anville” $43.00, 1 “Large Vice” $19.50, 25 lb. “Cast Steel” $9.38, and other items. Total $76.33

September 22, 1847 H.T. McClelland. Cloth goods totaling $52.31

October 2, 1847 Boarding House “tomatos” 5 doz. 5 cents, 5 bu. Apples $1.25, 17 head cabbage 51 cents. “Paying Mrs. Underwood for washing $1.00.

October 16, 1847 “Amt. Paid Mrs. Duncan for Produce at different times $16.41

December 31, 1847 “Furnace” 1 “Jack Screw” $9.00, 1 tape line $3.00, 30 bu. oats $9.38, 12 bu. corn ears $2.70, 100 lbs. beef $4.00, 66 lb. pork $2.644, 50 lb. “Veil” $2.00

January 22, 1848 “Furnace” 1 keg white lead $3.50, 1 gal. flax seed oil 75 cents

February 29, 1848 “Furnace” Amt. Geo. S. Wike for Washin Bed Clothes for Board House $6.81

January 11, 1849 “William Felton. To Moveing Exp. From Black Lick furnace to McCormicks”

There are numerous entries in the Day Books in the names of H.T. McClelland, E.B. McClelland, and S.A. Johnston.  The two entries concerning moving expenses of William Felton suggest that his services were needed in connection with initial furnace construction in 1847 and perhaps again in connection with repairs or additional installations in 1849.  He was probably a skilled furnace craftsman, possibly a founder.

Since Elias Baker did not own Buena Vista Furnace, it is something of a puzzle how the Day Books happen to be with Baker’s other voluminous iron furnace and business records at the Baker Mansion.

Operation of the Furnace

The operation of all charcoal iron furnaces was similar.  To start the furnace in “blast” the interior of the stone stack was filled with charcoal and lighted at the top.  Al materials were carried to the furnace “tunnel-head” or opening over a bridge from the nearest embankment.  After several days, when the heated mass of charcoal had slowly dropped to the bottom, the stack was refilled with charcoal.  This time the white hot mass worked its way upward fanned by a steady blast of cold air provided by the blast machinery which now began to operate.

It appears that Buena Vista was among the last of the cold-blast in Western Pennsylvania.  Hot-blast furnaces using anthracite fuel had already come into use as early as 1840 and it was not long until the hot-blast method was adapted for use at some of the charcoal furnaces.

Although it is not known for certain, it is likely the blast of cold air at Buena Vista was furnished by blowing cylinders or tubs – an arrangement which might be described as two pairs of casks fitting one into the other as snugly as possible with leather gaskets and moving up and down alternately on a platform.  The cylinders were powered by a water wheel located between them and below the platform, a connecting rod running from each side of the water wheel to each cylinder.  An air box, made as airtight as possible, received the compressed air.  On two sides of Buena Vista Furnace are “tuyere arches” in which iron pipes leading from the air compression box were fitted.  Thus air under pressure was fed into the bottom of the furnace.

At Buena Vista the remains of the water raceway are clearly seen leading form the furnace and emptying into Black Lick Creek.  There is some reason for thinking the source of water was not Black Lick Creek, as most persons suppose.  For one thing the flow of water from the creek, supposing that it came to the furnace by a feeder, would not have had much force or power to turn the wheel.  Also there are no traces of a water channel leading from the creek to the furnace.  Further, David Peelor’s 1856 map of Indiana County (see page 12) shows a saw mill dam on the hill not far above the furnace.  It is a definite possibility that the water to power the wheel came from this source by means of a sluiceway.  One obvious advantages of this would be that the water flowing down hill would have greater force, particularly if an overshot wheel were used.

Returning to the operation of the furnace itself, as the second filling of charcoal was fanned to a white heat by the cold blast, alternate layers or “charges” of charcoal, iron ore, and limestone were added.  The slag formed by the chemical fusion of the limestone with the impurities in the ore floated on top and was ladled off from time to time.  The molten iron, being the heaviest element in the glowing mass, sank to the bottom of the furnace into a small reservoir known as the “crucible.”  About twice a day the molten metal was drawn out of the crucible through the hearth into a casting bed of sand.  At Buena Vista the hearth is the side of the furnace facing Black Lick Creek.  Here there was probably at one time a wooden shed or cast house.  The main stream of iron issuing from the hearth was called the “sow” and the side feeders “pigs,” therefore the product was commonly called “pig iron.”  It required about two tones of ore, one to two tons of charcoal, and a few shovelfuls of limestone to make a ton of pig iron.

The most skilled workman was the founder who regulated the furnace, made the sand molds, and cast the iron.  The keeper, or right-hand man to the founder, was responsible for the proper functioning of the blast equipment.  The filler kept the furnace filled with the necessary charges.  The gutterman had charge of the sand molds.  It is not yet known whether small finishing castings were made at Buena Vista.  It is hoped to do some archaeological digging on the site of the cast house to obtain an answer to this question.  Perhaps the only product was pig iron.

Buena Vista appears to have had a clerk also.  It has been reported that a Samuel A. Douglass was admitted to the Bar at the September 1851 term of Indiana County Court and for a year or more afterward clerked at Buena Vista Furnace.

Periods when the furnace was in blast, or “campaigns,” were of short duration, seldom exceeding eight or nine months of continuous operation due to the necessity of renewing the crucible and inner linings of firebrick called “boshes.”  At Buena Vista some of the firebricks from the inner bosh were removed by workmen at the site who drew them out through the hearth, causing more of the remaining inner bosh to collapse.

Buena Vista appears to have had a clerk also.  It has been reported that Samuel A. Douglass was admitted to the Bar at the September 1851 term of Indiana County Court and for a year or more afterward clerked at Buena Vista.

Source of Furnace Ingredients

The charcoal or charred wood used at Buena Vista was made by workers known as colliers who piled wood cut into fixed lengths in a large circular cone shape in a dry, level clearing.  In the center of the stack was a small “chimney”’ filled with chips and dry leaves which were lighted at the top.  Then the top was partly closed with turf and most of the stack, except for a few necessary air holes, tamped with loose earth or turf.  The colliers had to stay with the slowly smoldering pile night and day, watching it carefully to prevent flames.  After three to ten days the charcoal was raked into piles to cool.  It has been estimated an average furnace consumed 800 bushels of charcoal every 24 hours – the equivalent of 50 cords of wood.

At present it is not definitely ascertained where the limestone used at Buena Vista was obtained.  It may have been obtained locally or, since only a small quantity was needed in comparison to the other materials, it may have been waggoned from some farther distance.

The following comments regarding iron ore appear in the Pennsylvania Geological survey of 1880:

The section of Lower Barrens exposed along Black Lick between the Cambria County line and Dilltown embraces over four hundred feet of rocks, in which are included three small coal beds and several limestone layers.  Besides these, there is a band of carbonate iron ore, which ranges near the top of the section and which is known generally by the local name of the “Black Lick ore.”  This ore strantum was at one time extensively worked, supplying not only the Black Lick furnace with materials for smelting, but also the Buena Vista furnace below Dilltown, and even the Baker furnace on the Conemaugh…It ranges as a persistent deposit, varying from six inches to two feet in thickness; resting in shale it can be cheaply mined, and a sufficient amount of ore was easily obtained near at hand, for the supply of the small furnaces once dependent upon it for support.  The ore is rather coarse grained, of a bluish cast, and to all appearances rich in iron….

Buena Vista furnace stood on the right bank of Black Lick, about one-half mile below the month of Armagh run.  The ore supply at this place seems to have been inconstant and irregular, and the furnace was long ago abandoned on account of ill success.