What is now one of the most beautiful landscapes in Pennsylvania’s Americana Region didn’t start out that way. The Park began as the hardwood forest stripped of trees to produce charcoal for one of the region’s early iron plantations. It surrounds Hopewell Furnace, founded in 1771 to produce iron replacing the iron imported from Britain before the revolution. When the war got into full swing, American forces had to look to plantations like Hopewell for cannons, shot and shells. George Washington was a major customer of the furnace and at one time, his forces came within three miles of Hopewell, but no fighting occurred on the plantation itself.
After the land was absolutely laid bare as charcoal consumed several acres a day, trees began to grow back when the plantation discontinued operations in 1883. Today, the 848 mostly wooded acres that make up French Creek State Park have recovered beautifully and now surround what is likely the best preserved iron plantation in the United States, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site. You can explore 42 structures and features to learn about ironmaking in early America. Try to schedule your visit on a day that the furnace is in blast and the iron is “pouring.” You can see the “pigs” as they are referred to, extensions off a center spine that coined the term “pig iron.” The Ironmasters House, with 13 rooms plus attics, furnished in the period, is a good example of how the architecture and layout of frontier homes grew larger and more formal as the wilderness became more “civilized.” Best of all, a tour of the historic site and all of its buildings is free.