Janney Furnace is a Civil War historic site located near Ohatchee, Calhoun County. The furnace was constructed under the direction of Alfred A. Janney, a manufacturer and foundryman, in 1863. At a time when Union forces were gaining the upper hand in the Civil War, Janney seized the opportunity to both further the Confederate war effort and profit from selling the products of the furnace.
Janney Furnace in Ohatchee Before the war, Janney was a successful businessman who owned the Janney Foundry in Montgomery, Montgomery County, which supplied the iron used in building Alabama’s State Capitol. Janney routinely purchased pig iron for his foundry from the Cane Creek Furnace, an ironworks that had operated in Benton County (as Calhoun County was known at the time) since 1840. On one purchasing trip, Janney noted large deposits of iron ore in the general area, and he decided to buy the land nearby (approximately five miles from the Cane Creek Furnace) to build his own ironworks. The location proved to be ideal: there was enough ore to supply the furnace for some time, and nearby limestone deposits would provide the material for making flux (a substance used to purge impurities from the iron). Additionally, dense woods provided all the fuel needed for charcoal and at high water, the nearby Coosa River could be used to transport the products of the forge to other foundries to be made into finished products. When the river was too low, iron could be shipped from a railroad terminus 16 miles away in Anniston. Janney hoped to produce 15 tons of cast iron per day from the facility. Accordingly, in 1863 Janney and a partner, Ned Lewis, purchased the ore-rich land from a local farmer and began plans for the furnace. Janney soon bought out his partner and continued the enterprise alone.
Janney’s Montgomery Foundry specialized in the production of ordnance for the Confederacy; before and after the Civil War, it also produced sheet metal, ornamental ironwork, and a variety of castings (iron objects created by pouring molten metal into a mold). This type of ironwork uses pig iron, the brittle product of the first smelting of iron ore with a high-carbon fuel such as coke or charcoal, as a base for further refinement. The Benton County furnace was to produce the pig iron to be used in Janney’s Montgomery foundry as well as for casting production at the Janney Furnace itself to further the war effort.
A great deal of labor was necessary to build the furnace. Most of the construction was performed by enslaved people owned by a Dr. Smith of Tennessee, who had brought more than 200 enslaved people to Alabama to prevent their emancipation by the advancing U.S. Army. Construction began with a large excavation into the south side of a ridge containing iron ore and the building of a retaining wall. Workers leveled the top of the hill so that it could be used as a stocking yard and began construction on the furnace’s stack. Enslaved stonecutters shaped large sandstone blocks, some weighing more than a ton, by hand and stacked them to a height of 50 feet; the bosh (the section of the furnace between the hearth and the stack) was some 11 feet wide. The furnace’s reservoir was built on the east side of the ridge so that water from the nearby creek could be pumped in to fuel a steam engine-powered bellows. These boilers and blowing engines, which were manufactured by Janney at his Montgomery foundry and shipped up the Coosa River, were located between the reservoir and the furnace.
According to experts who have studied the Janney furnace’s remains, it is unlikely that any iron was actually produced there. The lining of the stack was not fire-blackened, and examinations of the area and the furnace itself have found no remnants of charcoal or slag to indicate that the ironworks ever operated. This is most likely explained by the fact that federal forces reached the area not long after the furnace was completed. On July 14, 1864, U.S. Army general Lovell H. Rousseau and approximately 2,500 cavalrymen under his command used Ten Island Ford to cross the Coosa River and then defeated the forces of Confederate brigadier general James H. Clanton, who attempted to impede the raid. Rousseau sent a detail under the command of Engineer Officer Ed Ruger to the Cane Creek Furnace, which they completely obliterated, and Janney Furnace, where they demolished the superstructure of the ironworks and burned everything that would light. Janney later tried to salvage some of the large equipment (such as pulleys, wheels, and boilers) but never tried to rebuild the furnace. All that remains of Janney Furnace today is its impressive stack.
The Janney Furnace site is now a park maintained by the Calhoun County Parks and Recreation Office. The park is also the location of the Calhoun County Confederate Memorial. An annual re-enactment of the Ten Islands skirmish is held at the site in April. In addition, the park features the Confederate Museum and Native American Museum; the facility’s collection consists primarily of items and memorabilia relating to the Civil War (such as rifles and sabers) and more than 500 Native American artifacts, including bowls and projectile points, gathered from the surrounding area and donated by local collectors. The museum also sponsors the Janney Furnace Museum Indian Festival, usually held in October, which features demonstrations of stone toolmaking, weaving, and Native American pottery techniques. The festival also offers weapons demonstrations and Native American foods. Approximately 10,000 people visit the museum and Janney Furnace Park annually; the park has one full-time staff member.
Woodward, Joseph H., II. Alabama Blast Furnaces. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 2007.