Historical Markers
Glen Mills Historical Marker
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Glen Mills

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
Railroad Station, Glen Mills

Dedication Date:
September 23, 1997

Behind the Marker

Sarum Forge and slitting mill were part of the expansion of iron manufacturing across southeastern and south-central Pennsylvania during the eighteenth century. This wave began in the Schuylkill River valley during the 1710s, spread to the Delaware River valley in the 1720s, and then into Lancaster County and the Susquehanna River valley. The area was the geographic heart of the Pennsylvania iron industry before 1800. 
Etching of Wilcox Paper Mill, c. 1800s.
Etching of the Wilcox Paper Mill, Glen Mills, PA, circa 1883. 

When John Taylor erected Sarum Forge about 1739, it was one of the first iron works in Delaware County. His 1746 slitting mill was the first of its kind in Pennsylvania. Taylor operated the forge and slitting mill until he died in 1756, when the ironworks passed to his son John. Taylor was one of a number of pioneering ironmasters in the Schuylkill and Delaware river valleys. markerThomas Rutter built Pennsylvania's first ironworks in 1716 and the first charcoal furnace, markerColebrookdale Furnace, about 1720, both in the Schuylkill River valley. Samuel Nutt, Thomas Potts, and William Bird were other prominent ironmasters in the Schuylkill River valley between 1720 and 1750.

The iron industry started and grew in southeastern Pennsylvania because this region had iron ore, forests that provided wood for charcoal, and water power. Equally important, it had a growing market for iron products. During the late seventeenth century and the early eighteenth century, Pennsylvanians imported most of the iron that they used from Britain. Local blacksmiths also made limited quantities of iron at small forges by heating and pounding iron ore, much as bloomery forges did. However, as the population in Philadelphia and southeastern Pennsylvania grew, so did demand for iron products. Ironmasters established early furnaces and forges as a more efficient way to make more iron than blacksmiths could, and as a way to make profits and diversify their investments. Before 1750, ironmasters' plans to sell to Britain mostly failed, leaving them to focus on supplying the growing local market. 

Ironmasters followed the spread of settlers and resultant demand for iron westward. A bloomery forge appeared in Lancaster County in 1726. Peter Grubb erected a bloomery forge in present-day Lebanon County in 1737, eventually building an iron empire that included markerCornwall Furnace, erected in 1742, and markerCornwall Banks. In 1750, Boiling Springs Forge in Cumberland County became the first ironworks west of the Susquehanna River. Ironmasters found sources of iron ore, charcoal, and water power as they followed settlement into the Susquehanna River valley.

The iron industry continued to grow slowly in southeastern Pennsylvania and the Susquehanna River valley from the mid-eighteenth century to the American Revolution.  In 1750 Parliament passed the Iron Act, which stimulated Pennsylvania's export of pig and bar iron to England and attempted, without success, to ban the erection of new slitting and plating mills in the colonies. By 1776 Pennsylvania ironmasters had constructed some seventy furnaces and forges.

The American Revolution was a mixed blessing for ironmasters. Some ironworks manufactured cannon, munitions, and other products for Continental forces. But British troops also damaged or destroyed ironworks at Valley Forge and elsewhere. The British also cut off most exports from Pennsylvania, and war-time enlistment of soldiers created labor shortages. Nine ironworks started production during the Revolution, not including a new slitting mill that replaced the original Sarum slitting mill.  

Economic growth after the end of the war stimulated further expansion. Between 1784 and 1800 ironmasters founded some thirty-eight ironworks in southeastern Pennsylvania and the Susquehanna River valley. After 1790, tariffs on iron imports, rising prices for British iron, and the Embargo Act deterred British competition and helped spur growth of the Pennsylvania iron industry.

As postwar growth accelerated, the iron industry also expanded into other regions of the state, most notably into the markerJuniata Iron region and west of the Alleghenies with the construction of early furnaces such as markerAlliance Furnace. By 1800 the iron industry was flourishing in southeastern Pennsylvania and the Susquehanna River valley, and also moving beyond this geographic heart. Sarum Forge and slitting mill were emblematic of this shift.  In the early 1800s, as ironmasters erected more forges in central and western Pennsylvania, Sarum Forge disappeared from records, apparently abandoned. By 1836, when the Willcox family closed the slitting mill and renamed the property Glen Mills, other regions were also making their names in the Pennsylvania iron industry.
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