10 September 2010

News Media Can Be Misleading

compiled by Teresa Martin Klaiber
September 2010

News media is making its own news these days, accused of being either left or right or incorrectly presenting information. Some genealogists tend to take newspaper articles as gospel trying to utilize them as primary evidence.

When I discovered a clipping in the Portsmouth Times about an early furnace in Eastern Kentucky that I did not recognize I could easily have passed the information on. But something nagged me. First while I am certainly no expert on the early furnaces of our region, I am familiar with the names of most. The name of the furnace in the Portsmouth Times just could not be retrieved in my memory bank and I also knew enough history of the city of Ashland's Central Park and Armco Park in the county to know this property did not relate to them.

I am also very proud of the fact that I helped rescue 403 record books [yes we counted them] from Bellefonte, Buena Vista, Princess and Amanda furnaces in 2000. Many years ago Greenup and Boyd county lost these treasured records and 68 years later they turned up in the attic of the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan. When asked if our library wanted them back I quickly volunteered to make the trip to retrieve them. They are now safely back home where they belong, thanks to a tolerant husband that pulled our trailer and a cousin that tagged along to help load ledgers.

But I digress. The article reads:

27 July 1895: "The old Preston furnace and lands near Ashland, KY is about to pass into the hands of Boyd County to be used as a park. This was the first furnace constructed west of the mountains, having been built in 1789. The cannon balls used by the Americans at the Battle of New Orleans in 1813 were cast at this furnace."

With notes in hand, I set out to document this early furnace that seemed to have been within the bounds of present day Boyd County, Kentucky, at least according to the Portsmouth newspaper.

Before investigating court records I first reviewed my copy of Iron Furnaces Of The Hanging Rock Iron Region by Donald E. Rist. Rist states that the first furnace in the Hanging Rock Region was not built until 1818. The furnace is named Argillite and was built within the bounds of present day Greenup County. This is a well documented publication. Had I stumbled across an earlier furnace and piece of history that no one else seemed to have concentrated on? I found that highly unlikely.

Approaching the problem in what seemed a methodical method, I reviewed the Boyd County deed indexes followed by the Boyd County Court Order Books and Boyd County Fiscal Court Minutes. Neither the order book or minute books were indexed thus the exercise was time consuming. Besides the time, it also turned into what we genealogists term negative research. I found no entries or discussions concerning Boyd County receiving furnace lands for a park in the given time frame or even near that time frame.

Reviewing the article I concentrated on the surname Preston realizing that Colonel John Preston had large holdings from Virginia Grants in the Big Sandy Region sometimes simply referred to as the Preston lands. Prestonsburg was named for him and he established Paint Lick Station in 1790 later to become Paintsville, Johnson County. But within the many available articles I found no mention of an early furnace.

The article states "the first furnace constructed west of the mountains..." With the help of both Bing and Google I found two furnaces with the claim that they were the first west of the Alleghenies. The Peter Tarr furnace was built in the 1790's near Weirton, West Virginia. I found several articles and a description in Wikipedia. Wiki did state the furnace was used to cast cannon balls but that they were utilized at the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813 not New Orleans. Add that with the fact that it is not in Eastern Kentucky it scored a minus two in my research notes.

The second furnace known as the Slate Creek furnace was in Kentucky. I found several references and varied names. The furnace was also known as Bourbon furnace located in Bath County, Kentucky. While this furnace is in Kentucky I was about to give it at least one minus score because of the distance from Ashland but decided to look a little further. I found a wonderful article, Thomas Deye Owings of Maryland, Kentucky, Texas posted by the son of deceased author W. T. Block referencing the furnace.

Block states that the furnace was settled in 1789 which coincided with the Portsmouth newspaper. His article is well documented and appeared in Ancestry Magazine, Volume 19 #2 July/Aug 2001 as well as at the link above.

Block writes "According to the Lexington Gazette (10 December 1813), by 1813 the furnace was making three or four tons of iron daily. Some of its products were cannon balls that were later used at the Battle of New Orleans..."

However the furnace was sold by Jacob Myers to John Cockey Owings, Willis Green, Christopher Greenup and Walter Beall. There is no mention of Preston. Do I give this a minus score?

In genealogy we never use the word assume. It is an ugly word for any research project. But yet the more I reviewed the small Portsmouth, Ohio article the more I wondered did the writer carelessly misread the county name when both begin with "B" and did he assume it had to be near Ashland? And even if that assumption is correct where did the name Preston furnace come from?

Over the years I have turned to Kentucky geological reports and surveys for many projects. With one last ditch effort I decided to see what possibilities were left. In Geology of Kentucky, chapter 28, Misc. Mineral Resources, I once again found the old Slate Creek furnace listed as the first west of the Alleghenies. Within an instant the puzzle pieces finally fit together.

The publication describes the Preston Ore Banks that were located on Slate Creek southeast of Owingsville. It goes on to say that the remains of the furnace are on the bank of Slate Creek along the road between Preston Station and Owingsville. "Of historic interest is the shipment of cannon balls by way of the Licking and Ohio rivers to General Jackson for the defense of New Orleans..."

The three sentence 1895 article in the Portsmouth Times had utilized Preston Station or the ore banks for lack of a better name of the furnace. Preston Station was founded about 1881, just 14 year prior to the writing of the newspaper article in question. According to the History of Bath County, Preston was named for William Preston who had significant land holdings in the area. He donated a right-of-way to the Elizabethtown Lexington & Big Sandy Railway Company with the stipulation that a station be named for him at that location. The rails continued to Ashland.

The information concerning William Preston and the right-of-way was repeated in Robert Rennick's Kentucky Place Names. Neither author elaborated on Preston but this compiler recommends reading Kentucky's Last Cavalier. General William Preston 1816-1887 by Peter J. Shelinger for details about his massive land holdings which included lands in Bath County.

Yes, someone had inserted the four letter Boyd instead of the four letter Bath into the article. Before I blame this particular paper remember that articles got copied and recopied from one town to the next. While I have not found any other paper publishing that article I would not be surprised to find it again sometime.

Am I upset that I did not unearth a new historical tidbit for Eastern Kentucky or another furnace for Boyd County by utilizing this exercise? Not at all. I expanded my knowledge base a bit further.

Other notations I located on Slate Creek furnace state that the surviving stones had been within a highway roadside park. In 1969 the Owingsville Jaycees and the state Highway Department completed a joint project and dedicated the park on July 1st, 74 years after the announcement of a park in the Portsmouth paper.

The Kentucky Historical Society Historical Marker Database lists the furnace as The Bourbon Ironworks, marker #993 placed at KY Route 36 and KY 965 which is Preston Road. Mr. Block's well informed article, cited earlier, includes pictures of the remaining furnace and marker. Those interested in further information on Bourbon aka Slate Creek furnace and its works will enjoy reading page 90-98 of the History of Bath County by J. A. Richards.

News media past and present can be misleading. When you read tomorrow's paper maybe you should dig a little deeper before drawing conclusions.

1 comment:

  1. You might want to check books on early smelting, There is good scholarly material on the smelting industry in that region because of its historical significance to the military. Some of the land speculation there was all about iron ore.