Stop 5: CGS 2011

Sanford Formation - Endor Iron Furnace

Endor Iron Furnace (Figure A) is a historic site administered by the NC Division of State Historic Sites. The furnace structure is constructed of sandstone of the Sanford Formation (Figure B) quarried from a nearby "brownstone" quarry.   The Endor Iron Furnace site is an excellent location to discuss the link between the regions natural resources and its historic economic development. The Endor Iron Furnace as well as other furnaces in the region relied upon the coal resources of the Sanford basin and the iron deposits of Harnett County (Figure C). An outcrop of sandstone and siltstones of the Sanford Formation is present in the slope adjacent to the furnace.  Discarded piles of slag from the smelting of iron (Figure D) are present throughout the grounds of the furnace
Endor Iron Furnace
Figure A: View of the ruins of the Endor Iron Furnace. Outcrop of sandstone and siltstone of the Sandford Formation present on slope adjacent to furnace.
Sandstone blocks - Endor Iron Furnace
Figure B: Close up of Sandford Formation sandstone building block of the Endor Iron Furnace.
Endor Regional Map
Figure C: Map showing the location of coal and iron resources relative to Endor Iron Furnace.
Endor Slag
Figure D: Close up of slag from Endor Iron Furnace activities.

Notes on the History of the Endor Iron Works

by John Hairr, Site Manager, House in the Horseshoe State Historic Site

                Rising nearly forty feet above the surface, the stone ruins of the Endor Furnace stand along the south bank of the Deep River in Lee County.  Built in 1862, the Endor Iron Works was part of an industrial complex that utilized the natural resources of the Deep River Coal Field and iron deposits along the Cape Fear River to make war materiel for the Confederate war effort during the War Between the States.  Later the iron works produced iron for a mining and manufacturing conglomerate that used Endor as a part of their iron operations which they hoped would lure international investors. There were other iron operations in North Carolina during the nineteenth century, but few gained the notoriety of Endor due in large part to the strength and resilience of the iron produced by this furnace utilizing iron from the Buckhorn region of Harnett County.

The iron ore for the Endor Furnace came mainly from the Buckhorn Iron Mine, located 22 ½ miles downstream on the north bank of the Cape Fear River.  The primary ore deposit lay at the top of a large eminence called Ore Hill, where miners extracted the ore from the earth, placed it in a tram and sent it down to the base of the hill.  Here it was loaded onto flats which were towed upstream by steamboats that utilized the various canals and navigational structures then present in the Cape Fear and Deep rivers.  An example of one of these navigational works, Farish’s Lock & Dam, was built by the Cape Fear and Deep River Navigation Company upon what had been a century before the site a Native American fish dam, and is located within the bounds of the proposed Endor Iron Works State Historic Site.

Interest in developing the iron resources of the Deep River valley date back to 1768, when John Willcox began operating the state’s first iron works along the Deep River at Gulf (Willcox, 1988).  Interest in the iron resources of the area waned after Willcox’s death, but by the middle of the 1850’s industrialists once again began looking into the resources of the region.  The development of these resources went hand in hand with the extension of navigation along the Cape Fear and Deep rivers above Fayetteville. The lure of mineral wealth also led to the construction of the Western Railroad from Fayetteville to the Egypt Coal Mine.  The Western Railroad would prove to be a more reliable mode of transportation than the lock and dams on the rivers, which were frequently out of commission due to damage suffered during floods and freshets.   During the war, the railroad was an integral part of the transportation network that combined river born transportation of raw materials and pig iron from Buckhorn upstream to Endor and Egypt, and then down the Western Railroad to Fayetteville, thus avoiding the hazardous rapids along the Cape Fear where navigational improvements had failed. 

The mineral related activities were not a localized affair, and drew interest from people all over the country.  State Geologist Ebenezer Emmons (Emmons, 1858) proposed that the area would be an ideal location for the building of a national foundry.   Federal legislation actually sent Commodore Charles Wilkes, famous for exploration of Antarctica and numerous islands in the Pacific, into the Deep River country to examine its suitability as a site for a national foundry (Wilkes, 1858).  The War Between the States broke out before this could be put into place, but the notion lived on.  Several prominent North Carolinians supported the idea, and eventually a bill was passed by the Confederate Congress establishing a Confederate Foundry on the Deep River.  The bill was signed into law by President Jefferson Davis just a few weeks before the collapse of the Confederate government.

There were two phases of operations for the ironworks at Endor.  The first phase began when the Endor Iron Company was incorporated in April of 1862 by several men from a Wilmington mercantile firm including John MacRae, Donald MacRae, John W.K. Dix, John C. MacRae and W.H. MacRae, along with Benjamin Jordan of Virginia (Articles, 1862).  An ironmaster from Virginia who had been convinced to bring his iron-making skills to North Carolina by Governor John W. Ellis, Jordan oversaw initial construction of the furnace, which was completed later that same year.  The furnace was described in 1868 as being 35 feet tall, and 35 feet square at the base.  Though it was built in close proximity to several coal mines, the Endor Furnace was fueled mainly by charcoal, although records do speak to the presence of coke ovens on the property. Shells from the Tertiary materials exposed in bluffs along the Cape Fear between Wilmington and Fayetteville were used as a fluxing material.   Iron produced here was shipped south to Fayetteville via the Western Railroad, with a spur line from Endor intersecting the main line near McIver’s Depot. In Fayetteville, the iron could be manufactured into weapons at the Fayetteville Arsenal, or shipped downstream to Wilmington. 
The ironworks at Endor covered several acres of ground well beyond the furnace structure itself.  Exactly how extensive the operation was is unknown, and will require a great deal of archeological work in the future to determine.   In addition to the furnace and ancillary structures, there would have been rail terminus facilities, docking facilities for loading and offloading cargo along the river, and transportation improvements for moving men and equipment between the base of the hill and the bluff overlooking the furnace.  In addition, there would have been housing needed for the workmen, which included both free and enslaved labor during the early years of the furnace’s operation.

The scope of the Civil War era iron operations at Endor is not well understood, but later reports note the presence of various buildings and machinery at the site, including an assortment of engines, a rolling mill, a foundry, a Cumberland coal stove, heavy tilt hammers and a blacksmith shop (Endor Iron Works Ledger, 1864-69) . In the summer of 1871, George H. Elliott (1872) made an examination of the Cape Fear and Deep Rivers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and in his report gives some interesting hints to the extent of the iron operations at Endor that were still visible six years after the end of the fighting.  “Two miles below Egypt are the Endor iron-works, built by the confederate [sic] government during the late war; they are quite extensive, and the buildings, furnaces, engines, and other machinery are apparently in good condition.”
There were several types of ore available in the area, including blackband ore which was extracted from the coal mines nearby.  Kerr (1875) wrote of these ores, “The next ores demanding our attention are the Black Band and Ball Ore, or ‘kidney ore’ of the coal measures.  These are earthy and calcareous carbonates of iron, imbedded in the black, carbonaceous shales which enclose the coal, or are interstratified with the coal itself.  These ores seem to be co-extensive with the coal in Deep river, outcropping everywhere with it at several places outside of its limits.”  There was also, “…a bed of brown hematite…” on the McIver property adjacent to Endor (Nitze, 1893).

By far, the vast majority of the ore used at Endor came from Buckhorn, where a deposit of iron ore was discovered by William McClane in 1856.  As superintendent of the Egypt Coal Mine, McClane was well acquainted with the blackband ore that was found with the coal, but the ore he found downstream at Buckhorn was unlike any he had seen along the Deep River.  Commodore Wilkes (Wilkes, 1858) described the iron as “remarkable ore,” and wrote of the deposit, “There is another locality of iron ore lying without this coal formation, and rising through the older slate rocks, on the Cape Fear river, at Buckhorn Falls.  Although it was not immediately connected with the district to which our examination was directed, yet it was visited.  It lies some 9 miles below the junction of the Haw and Deep rivers, immediately on the east bank of the Cape Fear river.  This ore hill rises about 300 feet in height.  It passes in a southeast direction for nearly a mile, and covers a surface of over 300 acres. It is somewhat dome-shaped, and appears to be one mass of very rich ore, having a solid vein of pure peroxide, which is 8 feet in width, while ores containing manganese and siliciuos [sic] matter extend beyond it on each side…It is a massive peroxide of iron in composition, similar to the well known specular ore—is of a dull reddish brown color—has bright streak—is not crystallized, but very heavy, tough, but not difficult to break.”

The pig iron produced at Endor, as well as that produced by a rival company downstream at the Ocknock Furnace at Buckhorn,  was  used to produce implements of war, but the iron was  also used to make railroad car wheels, which were found to be among the most durable wheels made anywhere in North America.  A correspondent for the Weekly Standard (Anonymous,  1863) described the resilience of one of these wheels made from Buckhorn iron that was produced at Endor, “…which required forty vigorous blows of the sledge hammer to crack, and even then the outer circle was not affected.  This severe test satisfies the workmen that the Endor iron is the best ever made in this State.”

The furnace operated sporadically during the five years after the war, manufacturing iron mainly used for local consumption.   On June 8th, 1866, the Lockville Mining & Manufacturing Company took over the operation of the furnace.  Their first item of business was to sign an agreement with John A. Smith to produce iron.  The agreement stated that the company was to supply, “wood and Iron,” while Smith supplied the “Coke and Labor, each to have half of iron castings and one half the bills for Special casting.” (Endor Iron Works Ledger, 1864-69)

George G. Lobdell, an ironmaster from Delaware who owned an ironworks that manufactured railroad car wheels, became acquainted with the resilience of the iron produced from the ore extracted from the Buckhorn Mine during the war, and set about obtaining the source of this iron for his company.  Lobdell learned of the existence of the iron thanks to a series of tests he performed on wheels from a captured Confederate railroad car, which outperformed the wheels produced in his own ironworks, which were considered to be the best in the country.  Intrigued, he set about trying to track down where the wheel came from, a five year search that finally led him to Endor and Buckhorn (Fowler, 1967). On August 6th, 1870, he paid $1,000.00 for the Endor Iron Furnace property, which was being auctioned off by the sheriff of Chatham County (Lobdell, n.d.).

After chartering a new corporation, the Cape Fear Iron and Steel Company, Lobdell and his partners began the work of exploiting the mineral resources of the upper Cape Fear and Deep Rivers in earnest.  They obtained the rights to the various navigation company works along the rivers, purchased coal mines and other mineral deposits, and repaired the locks and dams between Battles Lock & Dam and Carbonton so they could efficiently transport their raw materials (Lobdell, n.d.).  Kerr (1875) wrote of these efforts, “They have already expended upwards of $300,000 in opening the navigation of the river for a distance of some 40 miles above the ore bank, through the coal deposits, and have also repaired the Endor furnace and put it in blast, and have been making a very superior car-wheel iron.” He also noted that the ore from Buckhorn was exceptionally pure and free from phosphorus and sulphur, and the iron produced using this ore was, “…mostly a spiegeleisen…” (Kerr, 1875).

At the heart of their ambitious undertaking was the construction of ironworks at both Endor and Buckhorn. At Endor, several expensive modifications were made to convert the furnace from a cold blast furnace into a more efficient hot blast operation.   When they were finished, Lobdell’s workers had raised the height of the Endor Furnace to 39 feet and increased the furnace’s annual capacity to 2,500 tons (Swank, 1880). Fortunately, there exists an eyewitness account of the modifications made to the Endor Furnace.  The writer, a correspondent for the New York Times, was not impressed with the remodeled furnace.  “At the Endor Works, an old furnace used during the war with poor success has been refitted and not improved.  It was calculated to make about ten tons per day.  After chilling up twice it was finally got to work, and at the time of my visit was making one ton per day of white iron.  It is illy [sic] constructed and badly planned.  The best blast pipes are on top, and the blast passes thence down exposed through the air to the tuyeres. The blast is driven by an engine, the steam boiler of which are also heated by the waste gases.  As the gas to heat the hot blast is lighted the moment it leaves the furnace, it is evident that the top of the furnace must be very hot, and the bottom disproportionately cool.” (Anonymous, 1873)

Meanwhile, at the site of an earlier ironworks at Buckhorn, Lobdell erected the most elaborate furnace of the entire operation. Lobdell (n.d.) later noted that the Buckhorn Furnace was among the best equipped in the South. At 54 feet tall and an annual capacity of 4,500 tons, it was the largest iron furnace in the state (Swank, 1880). But it was plagued with many problems, and was in use for less than a year.  The same correspondent from the New York Times commented upon these works, “That the plans were well drawn there is no doubt, but it would be hard to find a more ill-judged affair.  The blowing cylinders were perched fifteen to twenty feet above the ground on a trestle-work made of timber about 10 by 12.  If they had intended to rock the workmen’s babies to sleep they could have hardly fixed a better place. The furnace itself was modeled by a very excellent engineer of Pennsylvania, but without the slightest knowledge of the ore to be used, which is probably one of the most intractable in this country.”  The correspondent then made the following ominous prediction.  “From present appearances it will take full four months of hard work to put this furnace in blast; it is calculated to make twenty tons per day, and will probably make one-fourth that amount, or none at all.” (Anonymous, 1873)

The exact reasons for the failure of the iron operations at Endor and Buckhorn are uncertain.  Although many claim that the ore ran out shortly after the Buckhorn Furnace went into operation in 1874, this was not the case, as ore was still being transported from the mines along the Cape Fear upstream to Endor for several years afterward.  In addition to the mechanical problems mentioned above, contemporary observers noted that the problems had more to do with financial speculation than lack of raw materials. Another factor that has to be considered is the availability of inexpensive iron produced from Pennsylvania which flooded the market after the war, thus making iron operations in North Carolina such as those along the Deep River financially unviable.  Regardless of the reason, the last load of ore from Buckhorn was transported along the river to Endor in 1880, and the massive stone furnace has remained silent ever since.

 Copyright © 2011 John Hairr.

Anonymous. 1863.  No title.  Weekly Standard (28 October): 2.
Anonymous. 1873.  North Carolina The Deep River Region. New York Times (29 November): 2.
Articles of Agreement. 1862.  J.M. Heck Papers, Manuscript Collection, North Carolina Archives and History, Raleigh, NC.
Emmons, Ebenezer. 1858.  “A National Foundry in North Carolina.” De Bow’s Review, 24: 403-409.
Endor Iron Works Ledger, 1864-1869, Manuscript # 2279, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.
Fowler, Malcolm. 1967.  “Safety Fanatic, War Needs Combined to Make Endor Iron Furnace’s History,” Sanford Herald (Lee 60th Anniversary Edition): 6. 
Kerr, Washington Caruthers. 1875.  Report of the Geological Survey of North Carolina., Volume I.  (Raleigh: Josiah Turner ) 325pp.  
Lobdell, George G. no date.  Memorial.  J.M. Heck Papers, Manuscript Collection, North Carolina Archives and History, Raleigh, NC. 
Nitze, Henry B.C.. 1893.  Iron Ores of North Carolina (Raleigh:  North Carolina Geological Survey Bulletin. No. 1)  239pp. 
Swank, James M. 1880.  Directory of the Iron and Steel Works of the United States (Philadelphia: The American Iron and Steel Association) 202pp.
Wilkes, Charles, W.. 1858.  Commodore Wilkes’ Report, N.C. Gen. AssemblyDoc. No. 60, Session 1858-59 (Raleigh: Holden & Wilson): 1-40.
Willcox, George. 1988.  John Willcox 1728-1793 of Chester County, Pennsylvania, Cumberland County, North Carolina and Chatham county, North Carolina (Tampa:  Historical Research Company)268pp.