As settlers moved west during the 18th and 19th centuries, iron moved with them. Life then, as today, depended on iron production and ironworking for tools, transportation, weapons, hardware, cooking utensils and more.
While many items could be purchased from manufacturers in Charleston, South Carolina, Baltimore, Maryland or even England, transport them over the mountains to the Greene County area before the establishment of the Modern road and rail systems presented a challenge.
The iron production and ironworking companies sprang up in the footsteps of the settlers who migrated to the region because the raw material was under their feet and the artisans followed their path.
“Greene County has a rich history of ironworking,” says master blacksmith Jamie Tyree. “The iron was produced in Greene County. We have red clay earth, and that’s what red clay is – iron ore. That’s what makes it red, it’s rust.
Other materials needed to support the industry also abounded in the region. The wood was turned into charcoal to fuel refining furnaces and forges, and limestone was used as a flux for the refining process.
“Flux is a cleaning agent,” explains Tyree. “Red clay earth is iron ore bound with oxygen. To separate the iron from this ore, you use limestone. Limestone is mainly composed of carbon dioxide. When limestone burns, the carbon dioxide that separates from it attaches to the oxygen molecule and removes it from the iron ore, iron oxide. You remove the oxide, then you have iron.
“So we had everything here to make iron. “
Tyree explains the process.
“You build a stone box, a furnace, and you put a layer of charcoal, it’s your fuel, you put a layer of limestone, it’s your flux, then a layer of iron ore, your clay. Red. Then you stack that up.
“Well, when the charcoal burns it heats up and causes separation and you get pure iron or what’s called flowering. In fact, it collects at the bottom of the oven in what looks like some sort of bloom. It’s out and it’s forged.
“The old term for forged was forged. This is where the term wrought iron comes from. The term wrought iron comes from forging the flowering into bars that blacksmiths could take and turn into whatever they needed. It simply refers to the process, not the material. The iron is forged.
This refining process supported blacksmiths of all kinds
“Every community, whether Limestone, Rheatown, Afton, Chuckey, every one of them had blacksmiths in one form or another,” says Tyree. “They had to. Farmers had to come and have their tools repaired. They had to have new tools made. New houses were being built everywhere, especially after the civil war, once the reconstruction was completed. There was a huge agricultural boom in the city. east of Tennessee, which favored many industries down to blacksmiths.
“So that’s the reason we have a pocket here of this whole industry.”
Ironworking continues to thrive in the region, both in traditional blacksmithing trades and in industry.