Chester County, Pennsylvania boasted of one of the finest of these furnaces.
This furnace, named Warwick, was located near the little village of Warwick,
Pennsylvania. It will be noted from the name that this furnace was founded after
the fashion of English principles.
Little data is available concerning Warwick Furnaces history and many
contradictions are found in the narratives. However, an effort has been made to
compile the following record as accurately as possible.
Strangely enough, in the year 1737, Warwick Furnace was started by a woman
named Anna Nutt. This fact was occasioned by the death of her husband
Samuel Nutt. Samuel Nutt had made plans for the establishment of a
furnace on a tract of land included in his holdings and he had the foresight to
mention his desires in a will naming his wife Anna Nutt, a nephew, Samuel
Nutt, Jr. and Samuel Savage as his successors in this enterprise.
The will stated that the heirs should have 120 acres of land on the South Branch
of French Creek on which they should build a furnace and also have leave to cut
as much timber on lands adjacent as should suffice to erect this furnace.
Accordingly, the furnace was built in the year of his death 1737, as directed by
the will of Samuel Nutt. Samuel Nutt, Jr., died in 1739, his 21st
year, and the furnace reverted to the remaining heirs, Anna Nutt and
Samuel Savage, who continued the operations until 1741. Samuel Savage died
in 1742 and the furnace was operated from 1741 to 1752 by George Taylor who
had married the widow of Samuel Savage, Jr. In addition, Taylor ran
the Coventry Forge which was one of a few neighboring furnaces and forges. Upon
the death, at maturity, of Samuel Savage, III, George Taylor was
discharged by the other share owners of Warwick Furnace. Taylor then went
into a partnership with Samuel Flower in operating the great Durham
Furnace located in Northern Bucks County. George Taylor was later a
member of the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of
Rebecca Nutt, the charming and beautiful wife of Samuel Nutt, Jr.,
was left a widow in her 20th year at the death of her husband in 1739. Not
long thereafter, upon completing an extensive study of the fluxing of metals in
Europe, an Englishman by the name of Robert Grace came to America. Being
one of the largest iron furnaces in existence at the time, it would seem to be
natural that Grace should visit Warwick. Here he was attracted by
the charms of Rebecca Nutt and after a successful courtship, married
her in 1741. This, then, brings into the history of Warwick, the one man who did
so much to develop its contribution to the art during the early years of our
It appears that William Branson, a minor partner of the older Samuel Nutt,
was associated with the operation during its early years, but this partnership
was dissolved by Anna Nutt upon the death of her stepson, Samuel, Jr. The
value of the property was greatly enhanced during this period. Upon his
dismissal, Branson assumed operation of the Reading Furnace and
apparently had no further connection with Warwick. It was then that the firm of
Anna Nutt and Company was organized and Robert Grace appointed as
Manager and Partner.
As an indication of its size, it is interesting to note that the records
indicate that wood from 240 acres of woodland was required for its annual
operation. The large bellows operated by an immense water wheel cost
approximately 200 pounds. The weekly production of the plant, amounting to
twenty-five tons of iron, comprised both pig iron and castings for pots, stoves,
kettles, andirons, smoothing irons, clock weights and similar household devices.
For a number of years after his marriage, Grace managed the furnace;
apparently removing his new wife from her duties in this connection. Grace,
a very close friend of Benjamin Franklin, is credited by many historians
as well as Franklin himself with having cast the first Franklin
Stoves. Grace was also a member of the Junta, an organization sponsored
by Franklin for the betterment of education in all matters of
importance in that period.
Now that the organization and the subsequent management of Warwick Furnace have
been established, it will be well to study for a moment a description of the
furnace itself together with that of the surrounding estate.
The Furnace, according to the custom of the day, was built into the side of a
small hill in order that the ore, limestone flux, and charcoal could be placed
in it at the top. No doubt this old furnace must have created an impressive
sight when in full blast. The intermittent roar of the forced blast could be
heard for long distances and from the top of the furnace stack a stream of
sparks was occasionally emitted as the flames rose and fell like the fiery
breath of a great dragon.
The ironmaster’s mansion was usually built on a low hill overlooking the
furnace or forge. However, this was not the case at Warwick. A spacious garden
where the wife of the ironmaster cultivated many gorgeous blooms surrounded the
great mansion, all comprising a setting of unparalleled beauty. The mansion had
many large rooms, each heated with a great fireplace. In most cases, furniture
of the most excellent quality and construction was imported from Europe.
At Warwick, the mansion faced north. Situated near a bend in the road with a
large meadow in front through which coursed a rushing stream and a rear flower
garden ending at the foot of a hill, it must have presented a beautiful and
romantic picture at the time. Warwick mansion, as well as the nearby office and
barn were constructed of native stone.
Great fireplaces and ovens for boiling large quantities of water were built into
the rooms and much of the iron and castings used in fitting the fireplaces,
doors, etc., were cast at the furnace. As was the case with most similar
furnaces of the time, the ironmaster also employed a tutor, who taught his
children. Children of the iron workers were not educated by this tutor
except in the case of a few of the better class of workmen and foremen,
but even this was quite rare.
The iron workers lived in small stone or frame houses usually consisting of
downstairs rooms with a loft above. An additional room or two was provided for
the better class workers, but other than this, no other unusual advantages seem
to have been provided. During these times, the cooking was done at the fireplace
which, in addition, proved to be the only means of heating the home. Pewter
dishes and plates were used as well as iron knives and forks with wooden bowls
and trenchers for mealtime. The ironmaster, if of the distinguished better
class, usually used silver and china.
The kitchen fireplace, in the laborer’s home, was usually the largest, if not
the only fireplace in the house with a large kettle suspended from a crane over
a wood fire. Candlesticks and glasses were placed on the mantel shelf above the
fireplace and the pewter plates, china dishes, and brown earthen ware were all
stored in the corner cupboard. In the kitchens of the ironmasters’ mansions, china cups and saucers, imported
delft ware and tankards were carefully arranged on sheaves.
Throughout the long winter evenings, the fires were kept burning in all
fireplaces of the mansion. This consumed enormous amounts of fuel and we
can well imagine the endless task in tending these numerous fires.
Furniture in the first floor rooms was made of oak or mahogany including
damask covered couches while upstairs, the rooms were equipped with curtained
beds, massive chests of drawers and other pieces of heavy furniture of the
About the year 1750, Warwick Furnace was managed by John Potts, Sr.
Samuel Potts, in the meantime having bought out the other heirs, owned it
in partnership with Thomas Rutter until the former’s death in 1790 when
it reverted to the heirs of Samuel Potts. The furnace then remained in
the Potts family until it was abandoned in 1867.
Historical records indicate that cannon and cannon balls were cast at this
furnace for the Revolutionary Army by the firm of Rutter & Potts.
It is also recorded that George Washington brought his army to Warwick to
repair his guns and refresh the men after having encountered a heavy storm on
the 16th of September, 1777, which disabled the guns and impaired and endangered
the health of the continental soldiers. Washington himself furnished proof that
his army visited Warwick during the fall campaign of 1777. He wrote a letter
bearing the date of September 17, 1777, to the Continental Congress in
Philadelphia from Yellow Springs, Pennsylvania. In the letter, the
resourceful Washington explained that his reason for delay in continuing his
campaign was due to the effects of the previously mentioned storm, which had
been injurious to both men, arms and ammunition.
On the same date, another letter written by Washington to General Maxwell indicates
the same reason for remaining at Warwick longer than had been expected.
While the majority of his men remained at Warwick, it is generally considered
that Washington did not remain, but maintained his headquarters at nearby
Yellow Springs instead.
One historian has recorded the story of a large bell made at Warwick Furnace by Rutter
& Potts. It is said that this bell was used to call furnace
workers to work from 1757 until 1874. During the revolution, at a time when the
Hessians were passing through the town, the bell was rung to summon the citizens
to assist in burying the cannons cast at the furnace that were awaiting
delivery to the Continental Army.
Thomas Rutter, one of the two partners of the firm of Potts and Rutter,
inherited a share of the Colebrookdale Furnace in Lebanon county, which had been
founded by his grandfather, also named Thomas Rutter. The younger Rutter
maintaining a share in the Warwick Furnace together with his interest in
Colebrookdale furnace, lived in a large home in Pottstown named "Laurel
Lodge". He died in 1795 at the age of 64 and was buried in Pottstown in the
Potts-Rutter family graveyard.
In order to relate the turn of events surrounding Warwick Furnace history,
mention here should be made of incidents occurring during the American
Revolution and shortly thereafter.
Reputedly, Warwick Furnace was used as Washington's headquarters following
the tragic battle of Brandywine, (as previously mentioned, some historians
believe that only the men remained at Warwick while Washington remained at
nearby Yellow Springs), from September 18, 1777 until September 20th, 1777, at
which time he crossed the Schuylkill River at Parker’s Ford in an attempt to
interfere with Howe’s march to Philadelphia.
While at Warwick, the soldiers took all the leaden clock weights they could find
from among the inhabitants to mold them into bullets. It was necessary for the
people of the village to obtain new clock weights at once, so great numbers of
these weights were cast in iron at the furnace. During the Revolutionary
War, the furnaces at Warwick were in constant operation for the government and
large quantities of cannon and cannon balls were cast. Until some fifty odd
years ago, it is said that several of these cannon, too inferior for use,
could be seen half buried in the banks along the French Creek.
During a part of the 18th century, legislation was issued prohibiting the sale
of liquor near the iron furnaces. Drunkeness was so common among workers
that it was made necessary to take prohibitionary measures in order to prevent
the decline in iron production. Itinerant preachers, having heard of so much
drunkenness in this section, filtered into the district for the purpose of
converting the sinners to a better way of life. George Whitefield, a
famous Methodist preacher, was threatened with the loss of his life by the iron
workers during one of his circuit calls to Warwick. Mrs. Robert Grace (Rebecca
Nutt is credited with saving his life by appearing in person among the
group and becoming a Methodist herself. She also permitted a small building
on the estate to be used as a chapel.
Following George Whitefield, another preacher named Benjamin Abbott called
to deliver a series of sermons in Warwick and the thoughtful Mrs. Grace,
who was now quite old, sent a guard to the meeting to protect him in case the
iron workers should attempt to take his life.
In the year 1812, a description of Warwick Furnace was given as follows:
"The estate consists of 174 acres of land, 10 acres of full bearing
orchard, a strong and constant stream farming a quantity of land involving 30
acres. The stream being eleven feet deep at its deepest point. A rolling and
slitting mills with all appurtenances capable of milling 400 tons of iron into
plates, hoops, etc., in one treat of 300 working days. A nail factory 105 feet
long, having at present, sixteen patent nail machines capable of cutting and
heading 400 tons of nails and leaving an extra ton for more machines for other
purposes. The other buildings consisted of two large stone dwelling houses two
stories high, one new frame dwelling house one story high, one new small
dwelling house (description not given), one three story barn 70 by 42 feet, one
office, one smoke house, two blacksmith shops, cider press, outhouses, woodlease
or license to cut wood for seven years.
The following values were given for the above described property:
"Value of French Creek Works $24,000.00
" Nail Factory 6,000.00
" Approx. 20 nail mach. 30,000.00
" Stock 20. 000.00
TOTAL VALUE $80,000.00
From "Statistics of Iron Manufacture in Pennsylvania", published
in 1850, it is noted that David Potts was the owner of Warwick Furnace
and at that time employed one hundred men and boys and used fifty horses, mules
and oxen. The largest product was 1,400 tons of magnetic ore. Actually,
1,100 tons of magnetic ore was made in 1849. The furnace capacity was
indicated as being 1,400 tons of ore produced by a cold blast furnace
powered by water.
On June 1st, 1863, the Hon. David Potts died at his home, Warwick
Furnace, after having served in the Pennsylvania State Legislature and the
National Congress. An obituary concerning his death states "His judicious
management of his furnace (one of the oldest in the State) secured for him an
abundant estate and enabled him to dispense his income with largeness of
With the discovery of anthracite coal and its use in the manufacture of iron,
Daniel and Nathaniel Potts came into possession of the furnace and
estate. These two brothers made thousands of the old fashioned ten plate
stoves. Later, as hard coal began to be used in stoves, the old ten plate style
was supplanted by more modern patterns. After these stoves were relegated to
disuse, Warwick Furnace practically suspended all operations. The two bachelor
Potts brothers died and their three nephews came into possession of the estate
which now amounted to about 550 acres of land together with the furnace, a
mansion house that cost about *9,000.00 and fourteen stone tenant houses. The
barn was one of the finest in the country, having cost nearly as much as the
mansion. When the original Daniel & Nathaniel Potts purchased the
estate, it consisted of 1,500 acres, but they subsequently sold off certain
portions bringing the residue of the estate down to 550 acres which was willed
to the three nephews.
Tiring of the estate, the nephews sold it to a Mr. Thomas K. Sterrett for
$17,500.00. Mr. Davis Knauer purchased quite a lot of the original Potts
estate about this time, and it appears that Mr. Knauer’s holdings
became quite valuable due to the discovery of several granite quarries. Mr. Knauer
is reputed to have rejected an offer of $90,000.00 for his holdings from a
firm of New York capitalists.
In 1895, the furnace had fallen into disuse, the many tenant houses
uninhabitable and this beautiful setting of so much previous activity had
now become silenced forever.
From the annals of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania dated October, 1883, an
interesting situation is recorded, involving the new owner of the estate, Mr.
Thomas K. Sterrett. Mr. Sterrett operated a saw, grist mill,
creamery and forge by water power. This water was supplied by a head race nearly
one quarter mile in length. The water supplying this race came from the French
Creek which ran through the estate and supplied a dam located entirely on Mr. Sterrett’s
property. This dam was 400 feet wide at the breast and covered several acres
On September 4, 1886, a suit was brought by a Mr. B.F. James, who owned
an adjacent farm, stating that when the above dam was rebuilt and repaired by
Mr. Sterrett after a washout, it held back water from his farm. Apparently Sterrett
had attempted to settle the matter out of court by chipping off some of the
dam breast, but it was not enough to satisfy James so he brought suit to
determine the height at which the breast of the dam should be
In the years following Mr. Sterrett’s ownership of Warwick Furnace,
many new owners came into possession of the estate and it was never once used
for the production of iron again.
In May, 1927, Mr. J. N. Pew, Jr., purchased the estate and has endeavored
to keep it in original character as much as possible. He has improved the
mansion, barns and houses and used modern methods in the development of the
farms and land. Warwick Furnace Farm is now one of the leading show places of
modern Chester County and its production in farm products of quality and
abundance is extremely large, but the great furnace is silenced forever. It
will, however, always maintain with undisputed pride its place in the progress
of American History.