Image above: Wayside exhibit fronting one of the remnants of Warwick Furnace, 2020, America's Best History.
Spotlight on Lesser Known History
Washington's Furnaces, Pennsylvania
America's Best History Spotlight
On this page we're going to Spotlight the lesser known historic sites and attractions that dot the history landscape across the USA and are worth a visit if you're in their area. And while they may be lesser known, some are very unique, and will be that rare find. You'll be, at times, on the ground floor, or maybe even know something others don't. It'll be fun. Visit them.
Washington's Furnaces, Pennsylvania
General George Washington had been concerned about protecting his forges at Warwick Furnace and Reading Furnace since the British had landed at Turkey Point at the head of Chesapeake Bay. Even though he likely thought that their ultimate objective was to capture Philadelphia, he knew that the capture of the furnaces fifty miles west might even be more onerous to his keeping the Continental Army an effective fighting force. Those forges made his munitions, forged his cannons, and repaired his weapons. So after the losses at Brandywine and the Battle of the Clouds, Washington rendezvoused his men at Yellow Springs Tavern and made plans to head west.
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Info, What's There Now, History Nearby
Washington's Furnaces, Pennsylvania
While at Yellow Springs Tavern, General Washington made the calculating decision, forced by a feignt by the British, that the forges were their higher priority. Prior to heading west, however, he wanted to secure provisions stored in a building at Valley Forge and send two of his best commanders, Harry Light-Horse Lee and Alexander Hamilton to get them. Unfortunately the British had the same idea, and secured the provisions at the little known Battle of Valley Forge three months prior to their encampment.
So Washington decided to leave one quarter of his forces in the area near Yellow Springs under General Anthony Wayne, and march the rest eight miles, likely through back roads, to the forges at Warwick Furnace and Reading Furnace. It is possible, since he may have eaten dinner at Seven Stars Inn, that some troops traveled up Route 23, which would have been the longer path. It is said that they arrived there on September 18. No matter the path, once there, the men repaired their guns, and Washington mulled what to do with his cannon. A rumor circulated for years that he was so concerned about losing his cannon to the British that he buried them there, but that the rumor was untrue. In 2022, four buried cannon were found.
Image above: Sign and property at private Reading Furnace, 2020, America's Best History. Below: Houses and other historic buildings at Reading Furnace, 2020, America's Best History.
Where Is It
To follow the path, you would leave the location of the Battle of the Clouds located in front of Immaculata University, then travel toward Chester Springs and Yellow Springs Tavern on Route 113. After that continue to Route 23 and head west about fifteen miles through the town of Knauertown, look for the sign to Warwick Furnace on the south side of the road, and turn left. The furnace will be on your right. To find Reading Furnace, use your GPS, it can be difficult to find, but is less than three miles away from Warwick Furnace on Mansion Road.
Minute Walk in History
The Philadelphia Campaign of the American Revolution had begun with the Continental Army losing the Battle of Brandywine and the Battle of the Clouds. Washington was concerned that the British would head west, to his furnaces at Warwick and Reading and destroy his ability to make his cannons and other munitions. Follow in his footsteps as he left the Battle of the Clouds to the restored remnants of the actual forge that not only made his cannons, Warwick, but would forge the first Franklin stove and munitions for the Civil War, as well as Reading Furnace.
What is There Now
Warwick Furnace has, several years ago, been preserved by the Pickering Trust, who bought the entire period property, then subdivided the Mansion and Barns to a private owner with a preservation easement. The remainder of the property is open to hike and witness the archaeological remains of the Warwick Furnace. Look for the several wayside exhibits and walk among the ruins.
Reading Furnace is an intact village of buildings privately owned with no waysides besides the signs for the farm. There is supposed to be a marker there, but we have never found it. Since this is private property, please don't walk on the land. You may walk down the roadway and view however.
When Open and How Much
The grounds of Warwick Furnace and Thomas P. Bentley Nature Preserve, which the remainder of the land is known as, is open dawn to dusk. Reading Furnace is not open, but can be driven or walked by. No cost for either.
Fees and hours are subject to change.
Warwick Furnace and Thomas P. Bentley Nature Preserve
It's a treasure trove of sites having to do with colonial America as well as the Revolutionary War itself. Most, surprisingly, are not national parks. They are still fascinating to visit, but as noted above, not coordinated as well as they should be.
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Warwick Furnace was built in 1737, the third oldest in Pennsylvania. It was powered by the South Branch of the French Creek, and produced the first Franklin stove, cannons for Washington's Continental Army, and munitions through the period of the Civil War. It was purchased and preserved by the Pickering Trust. In 2022, a shock to all came about. That long thought rumor was true. Four Revolutionary War cannon were unearthed there.
Reading Furnace Farm was originally owned by iron pioneer William Branson. There is evidence that both George Washington's company and Nathaniel Greene's troops encamped here, and there is the same claim about making Franklin stoves. The entire farm, although private, is a National Historic District, including eight buildings and the foundation of the 1736 Reading Furnace. The mansion house was constructed from 1744 onward. The entire property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.
Photo above: Old sign stating importance of Warwick Furnace, 2020, America's Best History. Below: Period mansion at Warwick Furnace, 2020, America's Best History.
The Decision to Leave
While Washington was dining at Reading Furnace, his and Greene's troops first arriving there on September 18, 1777, they were treated to a dinner prepared by the wife of Thomas Bull, a colonel captured in battle near New York and then imprisoned on a ship in New York harbor. He would return after the war and run Warwick Furnace.
After the Paoli Massacre occurred at midnight, September 20-21, Washington received word of the tragic and brutal defeat. The argument about whether General Wayne, supposed to keep track of British movements, was negligent, was moot at that point, so Washington gathered the troops at Warwick and Reading and headed them east.
He was still concerned that the British intended to come to the forges, so he decided to meet Wayne's quarter of the Continental Army on the hills of Sanatoga. He stayed at what is known as Camp Pottsgrove, for several days. In the meantime, the British were not heading toward the furnaces, they marched into Philadelphia and took over the city unopposed.
Photo above: Painting by Xavier della Gatta, 1782, of the Battle of Paoli. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons, Valley Forge Historical Society.
The Route of the Philadelphia Campaign
One of the disappointing things about following the Philadelphia Campaign of the American Revolution is that there is no coordinated Civil War Trails type map or pamphlet or many waysides that cover the smaller battles and movements. Yes, the Battle of Brandywine has a state park, as well as the Battle of Whitemarsh, although the latter is poorly interpreted. So we'll try below to orient you to the main points and it will become a bit of a treasure hunt to find them.
The British landed their twenty thousand man force at Turkey Point at the head of the Chesapeake Bay. They encountered a small skirmish battle at Cooch's Bridge, then headed for the largest battle of the American Revolution, the Battle of Brandywine. After waiting a week, they moved north and engaged Washington's forces again at the hurricane shortened Battle of the Clouds.
The race to Washington's Furnaces were next, and while there, the Paoli Massacre occurred with Wayne's one quarter force. Washington moved east thereafter, meeting General Wayne at Camp Pottsgrove. While there, the British marched unopposed, taking over Philadelphia. The Continental Army traveled down Route 73, to Pennypacker Mills, then the Wentz Farmstead, deciding to fight to recover the city at the Battle of Germantown, which was a solid loss. He made camp at Whitemarsh, engaged with the British Army there in a battle, after Fort Mifflin was defeated along the Delaware River. When the British decided to winter in Philadelphia, Washington moved his troops to Valley Forge.
Photo above: Map of the American Revolution in Chester County, including the Battle of the Clouds area and Paoli Massacre, with arrow to Reading Furnace in Berks County at the top left, Chester County Planning Commission, Historic Preservation.
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