The Furnace Steel Mill, located south of
Bloomfield on Iron Mountain Road, was started in 1840 by Andrew Downing.
He was a local businessman who had gained great wealth from other businesses
that he operated in the area. When the demand of iron products for
farm use and other household needs rose, Downing realized that a steel mill
could be a prosperous business venture.
Furnace Steel Mill was a blast furnace. It was a vertical pressure
shaft-blown furnace, operated by forced air, which reduced the iron oxides
and turned it into a liquid form. A great amount of fuel was needed to
complete this task. Fortunately, charcoal that was manufactured nearby
was plentiful. This shaft furnace was similar to those that the
Germans and French were using during that time period.
After several years of profitable business for Downing at the steel mill,
three other men, M. H. Shryer, William Eveleigh, and William Mason, joined
him in the purchase of a small steamboat. "The Richland" was used to
haul the products produced at the mill to places where they could be bought
and sold. Before the men bought "The Richland," they had to pay
teamsters as much as $5 per ton to take the iron to Louisville. With
their new purchase, however, they were able to do this for themselves at a
low cost and ship agricultural products for local farmers, resulting in
mill, the workers were divided into divisions that required them to perform
a specific task in the manufacturing of the iron products. A division
was assigned to keeping the furnace burning. Their duties included
cutting and hauling the wood, forming and burning the pits, and hauling
charcoal to the furnace. Another division was involved in the mining
of the iron ore, part of which was mined in the area. A third division
actually worked in the mill. When the business was at its high point
in the early 1850s, over one hundred men were employed at the mill.
next few years the business grew larger. It attracted the interest of
some wealthy businessmen in Terre Haute. Chauncey Rose (founder of the
Rose Polytechnic Institute, now known as the Rose-Hulman Institute of
Technology, and Rose Orphanage), along with A. L. Voorhees and E. J. Peck,
joined Downing. With the help of these men, the business enlarged even
more, to staggering heights. More men were hired, many making as much
as one dollar per day.