|Katahdin Iron Works
The Katahdin Iron Works is a Maine state historic site located in the unorganized township of the same name. It is the
site of an ironworks which operated from 1845 to 1890. In addition to the kilns of the ironworks (of which only one
survives), the community was served by a railroad and had a 100-room hotel. The site was listed on the National
Register of Historic Places in 1969.
The Iron Works
Early European surveyor Moses Greenleaf translated the Abnaki name Munnalammonungan for the west branch of the
Pleasant River as "very fine paint." About 1820 he found Ore Mountain of orange, yellow, and red iron oxide pigments
used for Abnaki paints. It was identified as a limonite gossan in 1843. Samuel Smith built a road from Brownville, Maine
in 1841 and then built a company town where the West Branch of the Pleasant River flows out of Silver Lake. The town
included the American Lumber Company sawmill, boarding house, cooperative store, town hall, school, post office,
stables, and homes for 200 families. Stonemasons then built a 55-foot high rock blast furnace with water-powered
blowers. They also built eighteen stone beehive kilns to convert wood to charcoal for producing about 2,000 tons of pig
The gossan became the primary source of mined ore in 1845. The ore was roasted to drive off sulfur dioxide. Smith
sold the operation to David Pingree who organized the Katahdin Iron Works. When pig iron sold slowly, Pingree built a
puddling refinery to produce wrought iron. The Boston market for wrought iron remained poor, and the iron works
ceased operation from 1857 until the American Civil War increased iron demand in 1863. When Pingree died, a group
of Bangor, Maine businessmen formed the Piscataquis Iron Works Company to take over the operation in 1876. They
refurbished the boarding house as the Silver Lake Hotel for the tourist trade; and hired a Swedish mining engineer in
1877 to improve the iron by reducing the silicon content. The 19-mile (31-km) Bangor and Katahdin Iron Works Railway
was built in 1881 to connect the town with what would become the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad at Milo, Maine.
The railway began operating in 1882, but a hurricane fanned sparks from the kilns into a fire which caused major
damage to the plant. By 1885 a rebuilt plant was selling high quality iron for railroad car wheels and cruiser engines for
the United States Navy. Production ceased in 1890 when the costs of diminishing supplies of charcoal became
uncompetitive with large supplies of coke available to Pennsylvania producers.
The gossan deposit overlies a pyrrhotite deposit of iron sulfide ore. Assuming the depth matches the known surface
area, this deposit would be among the world's largest sulfide deposits. However, the rural location and poor quality of
the ore continues to make it uneconomic to mine
The Bangor and Katahdin Iron Works Railroad was serviced by three locomotives.
Locomotive #1 was built by the Amoskeag Locomotive Works of Manchester, New Hampshire in 1852. It was
originally built for the Maine Central Railroad as locomotive #43 named the Black Moria. It eventually went on to
become the Bangor & Piscataquis Locomotive #6 and was then retired from service in 1899.
Locomotive #2 was built by the Hinkley Locomotive Works of Boston, Massachusetts in 1868. Named
Argyllite, it was retired from service in 1887.
Locomotive #3 was built by the Manchester Locomotive Works of Manchester, New Hampshire in 1884. It was
purchased new by the Bangor and Katahdin Iron Works Railroad. It then went on to become the Bangor and
Piscataquis Railroad #7, then on to the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad #209, before being scrapped in 1914.
The Bangor and Katahdin Iron Works Railroad was leased to the Bangor and Piscataquis Railroad in 1887.
Annual conversion of 10,000 cords of wood to charcoal exhausted local forests by 1888. Iron with lower sulphur
content became available from Michigan. Most of the smelting equipment was shipped to Nova Scotia in 1890.
The Bangor and Piscataquis Railroad became the Bangor and Aroostook Railroad in 1891. The Bangor and
Aroostook Railroad discontinued train service to Katahdin Iron Works in 1922; but Katahdin Iron Works
postmistress Sara Green operated a flanged-wheel automobile over the abandoned tracks until the rails were
removed in 1933. The state has restored the blast furnace and one of the beehive charcoal kilns; these and
some of the foundations for other buildings are all that remain of the mill and village.
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