MFR History of The Noble Iron Works (and other nearby furnaces)

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Lieutenant General
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Apr 1, 1999
Martinsburg, WV
In Jackson County, a blast furnace was constructed in 1861. Saltpeter was made here in large caves during the war. An incident of interest relative to this county was that at the outbreak of the war, General John B Gordon was operating coal mines here. But he dropped the coal business at the first shot, raised a company called the Raccoon Roughs, which was enlisted in the Sixth Alabama, of which Gordon soon became colonel. Serving on General Gordon's staff was a son of Samuel G. Jones, now Judge Thomas G. Jones.

In the county of Cherokee, which adjoins Calhoun, on the north there were three furnaces supplying iron to the Confederate government, the old Round Mountain furnace whose records were given in Moses Stroup's biography, the Rock Run furnace, and the Cornwall iron works. The destruction of Rock Run was accomplished early in the war at the time of Streight's raid. The stirring tale of General Forrest and the girl Emma Sanson, all told over and over again by the local historians, is glorious incident of this time and place. One halts a second, riding by, and salutes the brave girl, and General Forrest.


Cornwall Furnace near Cedar Bluff, Alabama, Photo CC by Thomson200, 2015.

The Cornwall furnace was put up immediately at the outbreak of the war, by the firm of James Noble, and Sons, of Rome, Georgia. It was a six ton charcoal furnace, located on the Chattooga River, near Cedar Bluff, and adjacent to an ore field discovered late in the fifties by James Noble, and his son Samuel Noble. They named the plant after their home county in England.

The Noble foundry in Rome, Georgia was one of the first enlisted by General Gorgas to supply ordnance department needs. These iron works were then the most extensive in the State of Georgia. Back of their founding is an odd little incident linking them with early iron making days in Alabama. In an earlier chapter, mention was made of the fact that Jonathan Ware, and Edward Mahan of Bibb County, sent a specimen of their best charcoal blooms to the Sydenham Exposition in 1851, where it took first prize.

Now, it happened that the excellent and fibrous quality of this iron so attracted James Noble, one among the many thousand sightseers, that it led to his decision to prospect through the Southern States of America, in search of the ore that could turn out that quality of iron. Mr. Noble had then a rather extensive, and unlucky experience in Pennsylvania, a State he had immigrated to in 1837. He was a Cornwall boy, descendant of a long line of iron and mining men. His father was a copper and tin mine owner, and he born in Cornwall in 1805, had been brought up to the trade. In 1826, he married Jenifer Ward a descendant of the La Hammells, of France, and the Brockenshires of London. He left England with his family for the United States.

Mr. Noble settled at Reading, Pennsylvania and built there a foundry and machine shop. He had fourteen children, twelve of whom six sons, and six daughters lived to maturity, and seven of whom survive to day. His works at Reading were destroyed by both fire and freshet.

When on his return visit to the mother country to see the big world's fair, he ran across the southern brand of iron he decided then and there to go South. The larger market for his foundry products had always been in Tennessee and North Carolina. Returning he completed his inspection tour and deciding to locate at Rome, Georgia, he shipped his machinery by sea, and with the help of his six boys, each one of whom he had trained to the business, he erected his big foundry and machine shops at Rome in the summer of 1855.


Nobel Brother's Machine Shop Lathe, Rome, Georgia. Photo ©bankerpapaw, 2016.

The Nobles manufactured steam engines of a superior make, and a great variety of other kinds of salable machinery and castings. Prior to the war they built engines and boilers for steamboats plying the Coosa River. They also made a twenty five ton locomotive which was the first built south of Richmond, Virginia.

The Nobles had also in connection with their Rome enterprise, a large capacity rolling mill making all classes of merchant bar iron, and supplying the market in a wide territory. On their prospecting tours into Alabama, after iron ore particularly in the wilds of Cherokee, James Noble and his sons are said to have been taken by the county folk for escaped lunatics because they filled bags and pockets with the useless dye rock, John E Ware says.

The product of the Cornwall Furnace plant was consumed in their shops at Rome in making cannon and shot for the Confederate government, and in the manufacture of horseshoe iron for the cavalry service. This furnace was destroyed in 1864 by the Federal forces under General Blair, and in 1865 General Sherman ordered the destruction of their works in Rome, which included a large brick foundry machine works, gun carriage shop, pattern and smith shops, and rolling mill.

Before the torch was applied however, Sherman took the wise precaution to save the very valuable machinery by dismantling and shipping it to Chattanooga, and Nashville, which were inside the Union lines.

Immediately after the war, the Nobles rebuilt their works on a more extensive scale, and began the manufacture of railroad car wheels and axles, and to their rolling mill they added a large nail mill, making as much as one hundred kegs of nails per day.

Excerpted with edits for clarity from:
The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama
by Ethel Armes, 1910

More about the Noble Iron Foundry

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Forum Host
May 7, 2016
There are quite a few of these in central and northern Alabama. Just within a half hours drive of my house in Birmingham there are 5 with Tannehill being the largest. These areas had all the ingredients to make iron. The ore and coal. During the CW Birmingham was known as Elyton.
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