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Maryland's National Register Properties



Photo credit: VF, Undated Photo
Principio Furnace
Inventory No.: CE-112
Other Name(s): Principio Ironworks
Date Listed: 2/11/1972
Location: Prinicpio Furnace Road (MD 7) , Perryville, Cecil County
Category: Structure
Period/Date of Construction: 1723; 1823; 1890; 1970
Description: Principio Furnace, located near Perryville, on the banks of Principio Creek at the head of the Chesapeake Bay, was the first blast furnace in the state of Maryland, and one of the first in the nation. The complex consists of the site of the original, 1723, furnace. The third furnace, still standing in 1970, was constructed in 1836, and was in blast until 1894. In 1890 the fourth and last furnace was built at Principio. When iron production at this site was discontinued after World War I, this furnace was dismantled and sold. The site has remained in essentially the same condition since the dismantling of the last furnace. There were at least four other furnaces at one time or another. The other furnaces and forges are no longer above ground, having been destroyed or dismantled. Near the 1836 extant furnace is a turbine which is connected with a blowing machine through a series of gears. Behind the furnace is a large heater which provided a hot blast for this furnace. The heater and blowing machine were probably built after the furnace, but the date of construction has not yet been determined. In the area surrounding the furnace is a large number of buildings; some have little connection with the production of iron, but were undoubtedly important in the everyday life of those who worked at the furnace. This relatively self-sustaining community provided food, shelter, and clothing for those who worked there. One of the more interesting of the structures at Principio is a circular, brick charcoal-burner which, according to local authorities, was used only once. The excellent condition of the exterior of the structure and the rather thin layer of carbon on the inside confirm this assertion. Significance: Being the first iron furnace in Maryland and one of the first in the country, the Principio Furnace, along with the other holdings of the company, gave impetus to the growth of an iron industry and stimulated the economy of 18th century America. It has been estimated that of the approximately 50,000 tons of pig and bar iron imported to Great Britain from Maryland between 1718 and 1755, perhaps half came from the furnaces owned by the Principio Company. The Principio Furnace contributed to the war effort in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 by supplying cannon balls to the American troops, thereby making it relevant to our military history. Until the British destroyed the iron-making facilities at Principio, cannon and cannon balls were produced at this site during the War of 1812. George Washington's father, Augustine, was intimately connected with the Principio Company and its fortunes. He supplied ore for use at Principio Furnace, and helped to manage the Accokeek Furnace after it was found to be more economical to smelt ore near the mines than to ship it to Principio Furnace. Augustine Washington held a one-twelfth interest in the Principio Company. The 18th century need for rehabilitating British iron production precipitated the first international trade leading to the construction of a furnace in the colonies.
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