Center Furnace

Center Furnace

In the Directory to the Iron and Steel Works of the United States for 1908, published by the American Iron and Steel Association, appears the following: Center Furnace, The Superior Portland Cement Co, Superior PO, Lawrence County.

One stack 40 x l0 ft, built in 1837, open top, ore native limestone, chiefly mined by the company,  pig iron especially adapted for cylinders, pulleys and all kinds of machinery where strength is required; annual capacity of 4,500 tons.

Brand: Center; Charcoal pits with an annual capacity of 200,000 bushels are connected with the furnace; also a plant for the manufacture of cement from rock with a daily capacity of 2,000 barrels; Justus Collins, President and JA Latham, Secretary and Treasurer, Charlestown W Va; ML Sternberger, Vice President, Jackson, Ohio; JB John, manager, Superior, Ohio.

Formerly operated by Mrs. Nannie H. Kelley, acquired by the present company on July 1, 1906. Center furnace, according to the dates in the ancient records of the business, was built in 1833 by William Carpenter and in 1841 passed to the hands of RB Hamilton. In 1868 WW Johnson as administrator for the estate of RR Hamilton (deceased) leased it to WD Kelley & Sons and in 1867 WD Kelley bought the property outright. The furnace was managed by Lindsey Kelley until his death in 1902 and afterwards by his widow until the property was sold to the Superior Portland Cement Co of Superior, Ohio, in 1906. This is probably the only instance the management of a blast furnace by a woman [note: she was not the only one! – NC] and the old residents of Superior say that her supervision was most complete and that it was a common occurrence for her to don a leather jacket and divided skirt and take active charge of operations which included mounting a horse astride and superintending the mining and transportation of the ore which was brought by ox teams from the mines or the production of the charcoal required in the operation of the furnace.

Undated photo of Nannie Kelly Wright and driver Alec Tolliver in front of Center Furnace

The stack is square and built of stone with buckstays at about 5 foot intervals from the base to the top. The lining is of fire brick and the present lining has been in use for over 26 years, though a new hearth is built each year. A flue is built under the hearth to permit the passage of a current of air. direct to the tuyeres.

Photo of engine room
Photo of front of stack and casting house

The stack has a capacity of 12 tons per day. There is only one tuyere 4 inches in diameter, made of bronze and water jacketed, and through which the hot blast passes into the furnace. The blast pressure is two and one half to three pounds. Steam for the blowing engines is generated in two horizontal boilers at the top of the stack by waste heat from the furnace which from the boilers passes into the heating chamber, or stove, in which there is a series of tubes through which the air from the blowing engine is carried then through a flue


This system of hot blast is said to have been the subject of a patent issued to one Simpson in 1861. The old blowing engine is worthy of notice and is shown in Fig 10 It is of a very old design and of horizontal type. The steam cylinder is about 12 inches in diameter with a stroke of 5 feet. It will be noted that the air cylinders are driven from a jack shaft which in turn is driven by gear from the engine crank shaft. The chests and ports are bolted to the cylinder barrel on both the steam and air cylinders. The valves of the latter are of the flap type. On the discharge ends of the air cylinders will be seen an air receiver from which the air is led direct to the heating chamber. An extension of the slide valve stem operates the pumps which circulate the water through the tuyere, etc. The connecting rods are of wood iron strapped Fig 3 shows how the slag is hauled from the slag bed in front of the furnace by means of a chain wrapped on the drum of a bull wheel. The roasting or calcining of the ore is done by first laying a course of cord wood on the ground with spaces 6 to 9 inches between and over this another cross course of plank or cord wood as seen in Fig 7. On this is spread a bed of ore to a depth of about 12 inches then a layer of small charcoal, then another course of ore, and so on, until a height of about five feet is reached. Fires are then started at the base and allowed to burn naturally. The ore contains 45 to 50 per cent iron and charges consist of about 1,100 pounds of ore to 30 bushels of charcoal and 110 pounds of limestone.

Looking for what came next? Center Furnace transformed into Superior, Ohio, with the construction of a cement plant of the same name.

CLICK HERE to read all about it!