The Gray BarnHistory of Westport
History of Furnace Pt
The Sisco Furnace on Northwest Bay
When we think of Westport as the rather sleepy little village it is today, it becomes difficult to visualize it as a thriving industrial community a hundred and forty years ago, but such was the case. For in the year 1847, the Sisco blast furnace was completed and went into operation.
Built by Francis H. Jackson of Boston at a cost of $100,000, the furnace represented the best technology money could buy in the 1840's and was used as an example of current knowledge in technical journals and books of the era. Sisco blast furnace, and its sister furnace at Port Henry, influenced the state of the art of iron making for the entire United States. The plant was located on Sisco Farm on what we used to call Marshall's Point. Jackson built his home a little to the north, in 1848, on high ground that is one of the most beautiful spots in the Champlain valley.
It is now the residence of John and Cami Prescott [now Wendy Meguid]. The home Jackson built nearby was for his bookkeeper. There were many ancillary buildings, including a dozen workman's houses, offices, a store, a long row of giant coal kilns, and a large wharf.
The community was named Jacksonville and boasted a hundred people, or so, involved in the operation. This suburb of Westport never had a post office, but did have it's own mailbag handled through the Westport office.
In 1853, the Sisco Furnace switched from coal to anthracite coal, the first one on the lake to burn this fuel, followed by the Port Henry furnace a year later. It was said that vast piles of cinders surrounded the furnace at Jacksonville, which were very likely dumped into the lake and still cover the bottom of the bay.
When Jimmy Gough and I were young, we used to swim at what was known as The Cinders, the beach in the curve of the bay a couple of hundred yards from where the furnace stood.
It was tough on the feet as the shore was strewn with cinders, which in reality, are multicolored stones, resulting from adding "transition limestone" to the melted rock in the vats, facilitating separation of the iron from the ore.
Just last week, I went back to the beach and picked up some of the shiny green, gray, and cobalt blue pebbles, many marbled as white frosting is when mixed with chocolate on a cake.
The process of making iron is very colorful and on a clear night must have presented Westport residences with quite a show.
The clear smokeless flame rose from the stack against the night blue sky, illuminating the whole area, the stillness broken by the blast of air forced through the furnace by the great leather bellows.
The setting of sky and water glowing with lurid light streaming far out upon the lake presented a unequalled sight to the villagers across the bay.
Blast furnaces run day and night, week in and week out for years without interruption. When stopped, it cost a great deal of money to start them up again.
Francis Jackson also had an interest in the Port Henry furnace. Records show a purchase of 20,000 tons of ore from the Moriah beds. Most of the ore, however, came from the hills above Westport in the Nichols Pond area. More than one mine was developed, including those on Campbell Mountain, west of the pond. The ore was brought down the tram road from the mountain and hauled to Jacksonville by horse-drawn wagons.
The Westport furnace had annual production of 4,200 tons of pig iron for several years, compared to approximately 5,300 tons at Port Henry. During the mid 1850's, demand fell off and the iron depression which followed resulted in the closing of the furnace at Jacksonville in 1857.
There is not enough known about the situation to determine the cause of the failure, while the furnace at Port Henry continued and prospered for another hundred years or so. Eventually everything was torn down, with the exception of the Prescott and Morrissey homes, and some of the stone was used in houses in the Westport area.
Except for some cellar holes, there is little evidence to show that there was ever such an ambitious enterprise in our quiet village - just the cellar holes and all those pretty stones along the shore.
History of Furnace Point
Carlin Walker was not only a local historian and family friend, he also lived many years on land adjacent to Furnace Point.
The article at left is taken from what used to be a regular feature he contributed to a local publication entitled, "Bessboro Beginnings".
Looking across a portion of former Jacksonville,
over Northwest bay and the south end of Westport.
The Gray Barn on Lake Champlain
59 Furnace Point Lane, Westport, New York 12993