The History of the Sharpsville Furnace site
Once among the nation’s leading producers of pig iron, Sharpsville, PA. was the scene of major innovations in the manufacture of iron in the 19th century. The first use of block coal, a type of bituminous coal that could be used in a blast furnace uncoked, was at the nearby Clay Furnace and gave the impetus to the development of industry at Sharpsville and the Shenango Valley. Of even greater import was the introduction of the high-grade ores mined around Lake Superior; their first use ever was at Sharpsville. These and other advancements in the technology of iron production can largely be attributed to Frank Allen, while the entrepreneurial vision that made Sharpsville an iron center belonged to “General” James Pierce.
Nine blast furnaces once stood in Sharpsville: three at the bend of the river (the Allen and the two stacks of Mt. Hickory Furnace), five at the top of High Street (the Ormsby, the two stacks of the Douglas, and the two stacks of the Spearman), and one (the Old Sharpsville) off the lower end of Mercer Avenue. [All but the first three stood on land now owned by Development of Sharpsville Furnace and Zoccole Development.]
Whether a result of a lack of transportation infrastructure or a failure of the owners and managers to innovate, the pig iron furnace companies of Sharpsville did not make the transition to steel production. Around this time, however, Thomas D. West arrived in Sharpsville and applied scientific principles to what had been a haphazard art of casting iron. He became the nation’s pre-eminent authority on foundry practice, and his firm, the Thomas D. West Foundry (later Valley Mold & Iron), was at one time the largest ingot mold foundry in the world.
At the turn of the century as well, William Penn Snyder purchased and consolidated the five furnaces at the top of High Street in Sharpsville. They formed the centerpiece of the Shenango Furnace Company – a vertically integrated enterprise with iron ore mines in Minnesota, Great Lakes ore carriers, coke ovens, basic iron production, a centrifugal casting division, and—after the departure of Valley Mold from Sharpsville—ingot mold foundries, which were the main consumer of the furnaces’ pig iron. Two of the firm’s blast furnaces and an ingot mold foundry were operated at Sharpsville for most of the 20th century. The No. 1 furnace was torn down in 1970; the No. 3 furnace was banked in 1968 and torn down in the late 70s. The decline of the American steel industry and the change from use of ingot molds to continuous casting decided the ultimate fate of the foundry; though, it hung on through different owners, including an employee-owned enterprise—Sharpsville Quality Products. The remaining part of the plant was torn down in 2002.