In many respects, visiting Curtin Village at Eagle Ironworks in northern Centre County, Pennsylvania, feels a bit like stumbling upon something hidden. That’s because the site is tucked away off of the main roads in the Eagle Valley near Bald Eagle State Park. However, those that make the easy journey to this site will discover one of the most fascinating industrial history sites in the Allegheny Mountains.
Roland Curtin came to the United States in 1793, arriving in Philadelphia. Curtin soon moved west, opening a store first in Milesburg and then in Bellefonte. He also served as both the coroner and sheriff of Centre County.
Eventually, he partnered with Miles Boggs to open an iron forge in 1808. A few years later, the men switched their operation and opened Pleasant Furnace at Eagle Ironworks along the banks of Bald Eagle Creek.
Curtin and his family lived in a large home next to the furnace. Andrew Gregg Curtin, Roland Curtin’s first child with his second wife, lived in this home. The younger Curtin would grow up to become the Governor of Pennsylvania during Civil War and a very influential politician in support of Abraham Lincoln and the Union cause.
Eagle Ironworks was an important industrial site in Centre County and owned over 30,000 acres of land, much of which was clearcut to make charcoal for the furnace. In 1848, the Bald Eagle and Spring Creek Canal opened directly next to the furnace, allowing iron to be transferred to Lock Haven and then on to Harrisburg. In 1865, the railroad arrived from Bellefonte.
Eagle Ironworks continued to produce iron until 1921 and was the last operational iron furnace in the area.
Today, visitors can explore the recreated furnace, along with the Curtin Mansion, and the workers’ village.
Tours last approximately one hour and start in the mansion. Built in the 1830s, the Curtin family lived in this home for several generations. Inside the home, there are 15 rooms and 1o fireplaces,each of which are different from each other.
Tours of the home explain both the home’s history and architecture, as well as what life was like in this very remote part of Pennsylvania during the mid-19th century. The furniture in the home is a mixture of Curtin family pieces and period pieces, but offers a great look at life in the region.
One of the upstairs bedrooms contains displays relating to the history of the home, including several items found in the ground over the years. There’s also a neat display of local Native American arrowheads.
The iron furnace sits in the home’s backyard. Aside from the stone furnace itself, the rest of the structure has been rebuilt, but does an excellent job showcasing how iron was made. I’d definitely put the restored buildings here on par with the two best I’ve been to in Pennsylvania: Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site and Cornwall Iron Furnace.
Visitors are taken into various parts of the furnace and guides explain the process that was used to make iron. These tours not only offer a great chance to learn about the iron industry, but also about the history of Pennsylvania and how the state was built during the 19th century.
Some of the more memorable displays inside the furnace include the large waterwheel, the display of how pig iron was formed, and the ruins of the canal. Also of interest is a carriage that once belonged to Governor Andrew Curtin. While it isn’t specifically related to the site, it’s still an interesting piece of PA history that does have a connection to the site.
Across the street from the Eagle Ironworks is the workers’ village. While this isn’t usually a part of the tour, visitors are welcome to walk back and check out the site. Here, several buildings have been reconstructed to show what dwellings would have looked like for those that worked at the furnace.
While there would have been dozens of building in this area and the surrounding woods in the past, only a few have been recreated. Still, it offers an interesting look at the lives of those that worked at the furnace.
Overall, Curtin Village at Eagle Ironworks is a fascinating industrial history site in Pennsylvania. While it’s a bit hidden away in a rural area, its location near Interstate 80 and Bald Eagle State Park makes it a great destination for those traveling through the area.
If you love learning about the history of Pennsylvania, don’t miss this hidden gem.
Note: My visit to Curtin Village at Eagle Ironworks was hosted by the site. However, the opinions expressed are my own.
Curtin Village at Eagle Ironworks
Hours: 2nd & 4th Sunday, June-September
Cost: Free, Donations accepted
Address: 251 Curtin Village Road