Endor Iron Furnace got its start 150 years ago

Dec. 30, 2012 @ 05:02 AM

Lee County’s reputation as an industrial hot spot didn’t start with Caterpillar or Static Control or any of the other current large employers. It started 150 years ago today, when the Endor Iron Furnace churned out its first pieces of cast iron.

On Dec. 30, 1862, the furnace — located on the banks of the Deep River, about halfway between Hawkins Avenue and Cumnock Road — cast its first 5,710 pounds of pig iron, to be sent to aid the Confederate war effort.

Workers there cast about 15 tons in the first week, and it became a significant source of the much-needed resource for the armies commanded by General Robert E. Lee, for whom the furnace’s current home county is named.

Only about six percent of the pig iron in the entire country was produced in the South at the beginning of the war, and Bob Brickhouse, chairman of the Endor Action Committee, said the Endor Iron Furnace was the first large furnace in the area, the first heavy industry in the area, and one of the first in the whole state.

The multi-story furnace hasn’t been in use since the early or mid-1870s, and it has since ceded some of its former glory to time, erosion and overgrowth.

However, local supporters and the Railroad House Museum have been working with the state’s Department of Cultural Resources to study the site, with the eventual goal of restoring it, Brickhouse said. And that work might be done soon.

He said the state and local groups have so far spent about $400,000 setting up a variety of tests and preservation measures — cleanings, archaeological studies, geological exploration and three-dimensional imaging, to name a few — and will hopefully have the preliminary stages complete sometime in the coming year.

After that, he said, the groups hope to soon repair and re-build the furnace so it looks like it did when those first tons of iron were cast in 1863.

“As quickly as (the original builders) needed to get this thing going, they took the time to give it some architectural attractiveness,” he said, noting that the building’s aesthetics are only one of three reasons he thinks it deserves all the attention, with the other two being its historical and industrial significance to the community.

Brickhouse also said that without the Endor Iron Furnace, Sanford might never have gotten the railroads that brought in many future industries, as the rails originally extended into the area mainly to take out iron and coal.