Cornwall Furnace, Fall 2008. Photograph by Lori Walden
The Noble Brothers
James Noble Sr. and his five sons operated the the Noble Brothers & Co. foundry located in Rome, GA. They had been in business since the 1855 and manufactured iron goods of all types. When the Civil War started in 1861, they began manufacturing cannon, caissons and other war materials for the Confederacy. The first cannon they manufactured was in 1861 and was made of iron from Round Mountain Furnace in Cherokee County, Alabama. In order to increase the supply of iron to the foundry, the Confederate government offered financial assistance. On August 13, 1862, the government signed a contract with the Noble Brothers. The Confederate government would provide $20,000 to the Noble Brothers for the building of 2 furnaces. The loan would be payed back with iron and materials that the Nobles provided to the government.
The Nobles would name their new furnace Cornwall after the town in England where James Noble Sr. had immigrated from. The location they choose for their furnace was on the Chattooga River in Cherokee County Alabama. The materials necessary for the production of iron were all in close proximity to the area including wood for charcoal and large deposits of iron ore. It had already been demonstrated that a furnace could operate successfully in this area as the Round Mountain Furnace had already been operating in the county since 1852. Construction of Cornwall likely started shortly after the contract was signed. A canal was dug from upstream on the Chattooga and a tunnel was cut through the ridge behind the furnace. The tunnel would have came out next to the furnace where the water would have traveled through a water wheel that powered the air blast to the furnace. The canal would have then continued back to the Chattooga river. There would have been numerous other buildings on the site including the 30 foot high stone stack.
Samuel Noble is thought to have overseen operations at the furnace Production started in late 1862 or early 1863. Iron ore, charcoal, and limestone would have been fed into the top of the furnace to produce the iron. There would have been a charging bridge coming from the top of the ridge to the top of the furnace stack to facilitate the loading of the raw materials. Iron was then extracted from the bottom of the furnace and ran into sand molds to produce pig iron ingots. The ingots were marked "CORNWALL". Slag, a glass like rock, was a waste product of the process. The pig iron ingots were then transported to the foundry in Rome, GA. Once the bars were in Rome, they were transformed into various products that supported the war effort. The furnace was knocked out of production by Union troops in 1864. After the war, the furnace was rebuilt and put back into production in 1867. In 1870, a pile of charcoal next to the stack ignited and caused the stack to collapse. The furnace was rebuilt again and put back into production. Cornwall Furnace was finally blown out permanently in 1874. The site changed hands many times after that and eventually the site was overtaken and preserved by jungle like conditions.
For 15 years, the Society sought to purchase and create a war memorial park at Cornwall Furnace. They got the site listed on the National Register of Historic places on September 27, 1972. On September 25, 1975, the Cherokee County Commission was able to purchase the site including 5 acres from a private owner at public auction for $17,500. The Alabama Historic Commission had pledged half of the purchase price which came to $8750.00. The Cherokee County Historical Society gave $5000.00 which it had raised through donations from interested organizations and citizens. The money the Society raised involved approximately 900 donors. The Cherokee County Commission was responsible for the remaining $3750.00. The Cherokee County Commission created a committee to oversee the development of the site into a park. The work of clearing the site and completing the park was carried out by the the Soil Conservation Service. A ceremony was held to dedicate the park on April 24, 1977.
The park address is 1200 County Road 251, Cedar Bluff, Alabama 35960. Cornwall Furnace park is owned and operated by the Parks and Recreation Board of Cherokee County, 104B Northwood Dr. Centre, AL. 35960. (256)927-2757
- Col. Robert N. Mann, Cherokee County Heritage (1976)
- James R. Bennett, Tannehill and the Growth of the Alabama Iron Industry (1999)