For over 70 years, the life of many people between the
rivers centered on the making of iron. Veins of iron
ore ran close to the surface of the land giving it a
reddish tint and rusty feel. During the days of iron,
people blasted the veins with gunpowder or dug them
out by hand. Wagons carried the raw ore to large
brick and stone furnaces. Fueled by the abundant
hickory and oak forests and seasoned with the native
limestone, the smelting fires would melt the ore and the
liquid iron would be poured into wooden forms. The
forms, called ‘pigs’, were allowed to cool and the ‘pig
iron’ was taken across the river to a rolling mill to be
made into sheet iron. During this age of iron,
personalities such as Doc Watson, the Hillman family
of Pennsylvania Dutch iron makers, and the inventive
Crazy Kelly dominated. The Hillman’s built three
furnaces and named them Empire, Fulton, and Center.
The most productive of the iron furnaces was Center
Furnace, and like the iron industry became a part of
the history and heritage of the land between the rivers.


 In the 1820’s decade,
Before the time of rails,
On Kentucky’s western rivers,
A new breed set sail.

They settled in the green-wood land,
Between the rivers there,
Began their life an’ working’,
Began their lives to share.

‘Bout twenty years there later
The Dutchman came to stay,
Bringin’ the name of Hillman,
An’ the iron makin’ way.

Doc Watson and the Hillmans,
Began to dig the ore,
Bare inches ‘neath the surface
Of the rivers’ hilly shore.

They built the big stone giants,
To purify their find,
Furnace rumblin’, smoldering’ hot,
The charcoal, ore and lime.

The Empire and the Fulton,
We the names of a fiery team,
But then they built the Center,
An iron makers dream.

Pig iron burnin’ in beds of sand,
And cinders poppin’ steam,
The smells of charcoal burning lime
Made iron-man Hillman king.

Granddaddy of the iron works,
Ol’ Center topped them all,
Year round its fires a blazin’,
Fed by the wagons’ haul.

Diggin’s from the hillsides
Brought life to Center’s folk,
Red veins of the Iron Banks
Went up in furnace smoke.

The years of red veined tappin’
Began to take their toll.
Iron giants began their dyin’,
The wagons began to slow.

One by one the giants crumbled
In heaps of rotten wood,
Red veins began to drain dry,
Yet still ol’ Center stood.

On and off for sixty years,
Ol’ Center burned the ore,
‘Till Hillman’s Empire fell at last,
And Iron Banks gave no more.

Sadness filled the hollows,
When last of iron banks ore,
Settled cold within the ashes,
When Center burned no more.

A page had turned in history’s book,
A page of sweat and steam.
An end to pig-iron makin’,
The Center furnace dream.

As you gaze upon the crumblin’ ruins,
Remember the history there,
With slag and cinders shootin’ high,
When iron fire filled the air.

Don’t let it be forgotten,
Kentucky’s fiery birth,
And the men who built an Empire,
From Iron Bank’s red earth.

Remember and tell your children,
Of charcoal, ore and lime,
Of iron kings and giants,
Of the Iron Furnace time.


No part of this book should be copied, reprinted or reposted without permission or consent of Lynn M. Hodges.