Lecture #1 – Frontier Iron

Frontier Iron – Historical Iron-Making on the Frontier

Guest Speaker:
Norm Scott – Author & Scholar

Please email questions and comments to our guest speaker,
Norm Scott at normhaynie42@gmail.com



As settlers moved into the valley of Virginia between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny mountains, they discovered a land full of the bounties of nature. Rich farm land for crops and animals, abundant forests for timber, streams for water power and minerals needed for preserving meat and making tools. After pushing the indigenous Indian populations aside, settlers developed their farms and homesteads and established industrial enterprises. Settlers used the Shenandoah Valley to enter from Pennsylvania or used mountain passes to make their way from eastern Virginia. Many frontiersmen entered the valley from North Carolina.

While cultural and religious differences existed, the homesteaders shared a commonality of hardship and isolation from “civilization” on the eastern side of the mountains. Collectively they protected themselves from Indian raids. Jointly they developed townships where government and courts were established and together, they melded their skills and craftsmanship to develop thriving agricultural and commercial establishments. What essentials could not be hauled-in were made from materials found locally. Heavy iron implements were the most difficult to transport. Fortunately, the ingredients for producing iron products were found in abundance: iron ore, limestone for flux and abundant forests for making charcoal.

The earliest attempts at making iron were to use the primitive yet effective bloomery forge. Later, furnaces were employed. This presentation will detail how the bloomery forge and furnace worked and were employed to enable the early settlers to make their own iron implements. Other related topics include: The significance of German-American iron workers moving from Pennsylvania into the valley of Virginia. The attitudes of the frontier iron-mongers toward revolutionary activities against the British. Contributions African-Americans made in producing iron and the difference between being a slave on an agrarian versus an iron plantation.


Norman H. Scott grew up in Clifton Forge, Virginia and while in high school during the 1950’s, took an interest in the ruins of early iron furnaces and mining sites. He photographed ruins and began collecting books, maps and other materials related to the iron history. After graduating from high school in 1960, Scott served in US Navy before earning a BA degree in History at Virginia Tech. After teaching high school social studies he attained his Master’s degree from East Tennessee State University. Afterward he joined the staff of New River Community College and while there began working on his Doctorate. After moving to Wytheville Community College three years later, he completed his Doctorate in vocational and technical education.

After Wytheville, Scott successively served at Patrick Henry and Mountain Empire community colleges and from there accepted the presidency of Williamsburg Technical Community College in South Carolina. Scott returned to Virginia three years later and assumed the role of Rappahannock Community College’s second president. He retired from that school in 2004. After retirement Scott rekindled his interest in researching Virginia’s iron industry and in 2012 published his first book, Iron and the Gap, which detailed the iron works of Lee and Wise counties. A River of Iron followed in 2015 detailing the iron history of Alleghany, Augusta, Botetourt and Rockbridge counties. Last year Scott published Shenandoah Iron, the iron story of the counties watered by the Shenandoah River from Rockingham to Frederick. Scott’s next book, Big Lick, Cripple Creek and Rye Valley Iron, will feature the counties of Roanoke southward to Washington.

This year’s lecture series is brought to you by a generous grant from Virginia Humanities.

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