Forging History: The Legacy of Curtin Village at Eagle Ironworks

Eagle Ironworks Historic Site

Curtin Village at Eagle Ironworks Historical Site is a museum that preserves the remains of one of the longest-lasting ironworks operations in Pennsylvania. Roland Curtin, Sr, an Irish immigrant, and Miles Boggs founded the ironworks in 1810.

The museum includes an iron master’s mansion, a Victorian-style home, the furnace stack, a grist mill, and workers’ houses.

The ironworks village was notable for its longevity. It operated for 112 years until it closed in 1921. This is remarkable in an industry where most iron-making companies lasted 15 years. Remarkably, it was Pennsylvania’s last surviving charcoal-fueled iron furnace.

The area has been conserved and is currently operated as the Curtin Village at Eagle Ironworks Historical Site. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

It Takes a Curtin Village…

The historic Eagle Ironworks employed a highly specialized workforce, reflecting the diverse needs of a 19th-century iron-making community. About half of the workers produced labor intensive charcoal, essential for making iron. The work varied by season. Lumbering took place in the colder months; workers produced charcoal between May and October.

Another third of the workers mined iron ore and lime stone. The remaining employees worked in various roles at the furnace, forge and rolling mill. In addition, support workers like blacksmiths, carpenters, and masons, as well as teachers, ministers, and shop keepers helped ensure a thriving community. In 1850, the operation employed 181 men, though only about 80 were full time; the rest were seasonal or temporary workers. Notably, Roland Curtin employed a small number of paid African Americans before the Civil War. Women were also part of the payroll.

Roland Curtin and his sons adopted a paternalistic approach towards their workers, providing company-owned houses and a store that offered goods on credit. They lived among the workers, mingling frequently but saw themselves as surrogate parents. This paternalism extended to providing work even during shutdowns. However, this relationship was complex. Although some workers felt a deep sense of loyalty, even naming their children after Roland Curtin, others resented the obvious social hierarchies and occasionally rebelled through drinking or gambling. The Curtins wielded significant power. They decided who worked, where they lived and they expected deference. They lived in grander homes and expected to be addressed formally.

At its peak in 1832, Curtin’s iron operation was a sprawling community with more than 60 houses for about 75 employees and their families. The operation also included hundreds of acres of farmland for food and livestock. The Curtin family offered free housing in the workers’ village or in a boarding house, with the size and quality of housing varying depending on the worker’s job. The housing also provided space for personal vegetable gardens and livestock.

The company ran a grocery and dry goods store where workers could purchase what they needed. The company credited workers’ pay to accounts at this store, allowing the worker to purchase what they needed. At the end of the month, the company paid out in cash any remaining store credits. With a captive audience, so to speak, I’m guessing the company made significant profit off of the company store, to the detriment of the workers.

However, this model of a diversified community helped keep the Eagle Ironworks operating for an impressive 112 years, surviving through wars and significant industrial changes.

Know Before You Go

Visitors can experience a mid-1800s iron-making village through self-guided tours available from dawn to dusk. Additionally, you can also schedule or attend guided tours by knowledgeable guides in period dress. Entry is by donation.

Guided tours include the Federal-style Curtin Family Mansion, the blast furnace and iron-making complex, the workers’ village and the personal carriage of Pennsylvania’s Civil War Governor, Andrew Gregg Curtin.

Getting there: 251 Curtin Village Road, Howard PA
Hours: Guided tours usually occur on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of each month, June – September, beginning at 2 p.m. Tours last around 75-90 minutes. Check the website below to verify tour information.
Website: Curtain Village

There’s so much to see and do in Happy Valley. Check out the articles below for more ideas!