The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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Heart of the Blue Ridge

Furnace Stack - Part 2 of 3

By Bob Heafner © 1983-2012

Issue: June, 1983

Last month I told of the old, neglected Furnace Stack in Floyd County, located just off the Blue Ridge Parkway, north of Mabry Mill (see our BACKROADS column this month). The iron and copper mine has been in operation off and on since 1790. In 1790, Captain Daniel Shelor, a veteran of the Revolutionary War first came to Floyd County and mined the iron and copper ore and smeltered it down into cooking utensils, to be sold throughout this region. Around 1850, the furnace stack was bought by Robert L. Toncray, who in 1861 lost the mine and all his wealth when his business failed.

furnace stackTHE FURNACE STACK - Matt Burnett standing in forground.Around 1905, a company from New York bought the old Shelor mine and started the operation up again. But, in the modern times of 1905, the old methods just wouldn’t do. In order to get the ore out of the mine easier, they bought a boiler in New York City and had it shipped to Christiansburg by train. Then the problem arose of how to get the seven foot high, 12 foot long boiler from Christiansburg, over the winding, little wagon trails to that backwoods area of Floyd County, Virginia. This problem was overcome, when the manager of the mine borrowed a gigantic wagon with wheels 8 inches wide, from the arsenic mines, in the northern part of Floyd County. This wagon, with 12 yoke of oxen hooked to it was used to transport the boiler. Folks all along the route lined the roads to see such a sight as 12 yoke of oxen pulling a gigantic wagon with this monster of a boiler loaded on it. They traveled slowly from Christiansburg to Floyd. Eventually, they got within a couple of hundred feet of the site where the boiler would be stationed.

Since the road was not passable with so many oxen, boiler and wagon, they had to improvise. They used a block and tackle to hoist the boiler the last couple hundred feet, to its permanent location. Over two hundred people were lining the ridge that day and what a sight it was! It was something people in these parts had never seen before. Here, with the aid of block and tackle, the oxen were pulling downhill and the load was going uphill! The twelve yoke of oxen heaved the boiler into place. It was quite a sight for those days.

The mine started operation around 1905 and continued until around 1910, when it failed again. While it operated, it was a marvel of turn of the century ingenuity. Ore was smelted down into blocks weighing approximately 100 hundred pounds each, then loaded onto wagons and hauled to Christiansburg, where it could be shipped by train.