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Early iron works

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Early iron works


Charles Chiswell Furnace


Early Iron Works
Nearly 300 years ago, this land on the South bank of the North Anna was owned by Charles Chiswell, an early 18th Century Williamsburg political insider and one of the lake region’s great entrepreneurs.

Chiswell was born in 1670 to a couple recently emigrated from Scotland. Little is known of his early life, however at thirty-three, Chiswell received an appointment to the Royal Governor’s taff and within two years, he had ascended to the key position of Chief Clerk of the Governor’s Council. Likely due in large part to his position, over the next 20 years Chiswell was able to accumulate by land grant over 100,000 acres of lands in New Kent, King and Queen, and Hanover Counties.

Robert Dunham, who later would become the most renowned iron-maker in the Middle Colonies, was hired around 1725 to develop Chiswell’s iron-making operation into a profitable enterprise. To support this new business, Chiswell searched for properties within the York River Valley that contained sufficient quantities of iron ore that could be easily extracted and smelted. Also needed was a ready supply of wood to make charcoal for the smelting process. One such area was located on the far bank of the North Anna River. Records show that in 1728, Chiswell acquired 4975 acres of land on the south bank of the North Anna River on both sides of Contrary Creek to Franks Creek to the east. Chiswell paid to the Crown authorities in Williamsburg 19 pounds 10 shillings or approximately $50,000 in today’s U.S. dollars. Dominion paid quite a bit more for this piece of property as they began construction of the power plant in the 1970s.

To the left of the marina on Route 208, is a Virginia State Historical Marker. The Marker records that, “Charles Chiswell established the iron-making community of Fredericksville near this point of Douglas Run, a tributary of the North Anna River. The furnace had been in blast for about five years when William Byrd visited Chiswell’s metallurgy operations in 1732”. William Byrd II was a very prominent member of the Governor’s Council and reported in his diary “I found Mr. Chiswell a sensible, well-bred man very frank in communicating his knowledge in the mystery of making iron, wherein he has had long experience.” In 1737, Byrd would found the City of Richmond.


Chris Peterson, author


Louisa County Historical Society