Effort underway to restore Swatara Furnace

First step is undertaken to eliminate danger from the PG Twp. site

By Rob Wheary, Staff Writer



ROB WHEARY/Staff Photo Parkway Tree Service owner Benjamin Fodor swings from branch to branch to make his next cut of the sycamore tree standing near the Swatara iron ore furnace. With the tree being too unsteady to climb, Fodor used a crane to get up near the top of the tree and lower the larger branches down to the ground to avoid any damage.

PINE GROVE TOWNSHIP – Several environmental and historical groups have joined forced to help restore and preserve an 185-year-old structure, the last one of its kind seen in Schuylkill County.
Recently. members of the Oak Grove Sportsman’s Association, the Old Forge Fishing Club, Pinegrove Historical Society and the Friends of Memorial Lake and Swatara State Parks joined forces with the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Lebanon City Authority for an effort to preserve the Swatara Furnace.
The group’s first effort came on May 20 when a crew from an Ephrata tree service company came to the site near the Lebanon Reservoir to remove a threat to the furnace structure, a large sycamore tree standing next to it.
“The tree is about 85 to 90 feet tall and very unsteady,” a local historian said. “If we get a bad storm and the tree blows the wrong way, the furnace could be damaged.”

With the help of a crane, Benjamin Fodor, owner of Parkway Tree Service, Ephrata, made his way to the top of the tree, armed with a chainsaw to being dismantling the once-mighty sycamore.
“The tree is very unstable to climb outright, so Benjamin will take his time and go from branch to branch, first hooking it up with the crane and then cutting it, so we can easily bring the cut limbs down to safely dispose of them,” a tree service worker said.
The first stage of the restoration plan includes removing the tree and all invasive vegetation, small trees and brush growing on and around the structure, fence in the wheel pit and tail race, and then stabilize the structure.
Removing the tree alone costs $2,000, and the collaboration received the funds for it through a grant from the Williams Corporation and private funding.
Once that is done, work can begin on the furnace preservation.
“We have been in contact with the National Park Service Training Center and an area engineering firm who are both interested in first preserving and then restoring the existing stone structure,” the historian said. “That will cost approximately $15,000.”
While the tree removal and engineering work was bidded out, all of the manual labor will be done by volunteers.
The Swatara Furnace is located below the Siegrist Dam and Lebanon Reservoir, several hundred yards west of Old Forge Road, along the Mill Creek in Pine Grove Township. The furnace is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and categorized by the National Parks Service and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission as having statewide historical significance.
Constructed in 1930 by Simeon Guilford, an engineer for the Union Canal Company of Pennsylvania, and Dr. George Eckert, a medical doctor whose family was involved in the iron industry, the Swatara Furnace was in operation for 30 years, turning iron ore into pig iron, which was then used for manufacturing. When the furnace operation was abandoned in 1860, a forge was constructed and operated until 1875. The furnace and forge are now the property of the Game Commission and the City of Lebanon Authority.
Anyone willing to help the effort with a monetary donation can send it to the Pinegrove Historical Society, P.O. Box 65, Pine Grove, PA 17963. Checks should be made out to the society with a notation that the funds are for the “Preservation of the Swatara Furnace,” and donations are tax-deductible.

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