Bourbon Iron Furnace

The Bourbon iron furnace went online (blast) in 1790, and in May 1791, was purchased by John Cockey Owings and Company, a joint stock company, which included Owings, Greenup, Walter Beall and Willis Green. In 1794 additional partners were added, to include George Thomas, John Breckenridge, and George Nicholas. In 1795 John Cockey Owings emerged as sole owner.

Bourbon Iron Furnace Photo

In 1795 J. C. Owings sent his 19-year-old son, Thomas Deye Owings, to Kentucky to oversee his lands, and to manage the Bourbon iron furnace and grist mill. Terry Mason, a descendent of T. D. Owing's youngest daughter, Ann Eliza Owings Mason, acknowledges that T. D. Owings had a first marriage to ?? (given name unknown) Jackson, who died CA. 1801 and who in 1800, gave birth to a son, Thomas Jackson Owings, who died in 1830. "Owings and Allied Families," by A. D. an E. S. Owings, refer to Jackson Owings' birth as a "natural son," presumably meaning illegitimate. However, despite his age, T. D. Owings was married before he left Baltimore in 1795.

A letter of Thomas D. Owings to his father, dated Lexington, KY., Aug. 14, 1795, survives in the American Historical Manuscripts at Kent State University; as well as a letter from B. Van Pradelles from Kentucky in 1798. In 1795 T. D. Owings wrote that "we, believed to be Van Pradelles, were preparing to leave for Baltimore." Parts of Owings letter read verbatim as follows: "...I have such a desire to see my wife and family that I cannot contain myself any longer..." Hence, T. D. Owings confirmed that he had a wife and perhaps infant children living in Baltimore.

Thomas D. Owings also wrote of small tracts of 500 or so acres were for sale for "4,000" or "5,000 pounds." The unit of currency seems indeed strange, coming in the sixth year of Washington's presidency. About 1805 Frances Owings Taylor wrote of a house selling for "2,900 pounds of tobacco," so perhaps tobacco rather than the British pound, had become the medium of exchange. T. D. Owings complained about pains and injuries to his health, as did Van Pradelles in 1798 about Owings' health.

One article reported that: "...The Slate Furnace, also known as the Bourbon Furnace, was built by Jacob Meyers. It was later bought and operated by a syndicate headed by John Cockey Owings, for whom Owingsville is named. This furnace was built just 16 years after the building of Boonesboro. A fort was constructed for the protection of workers (and manned by 17 Kentucky militiamen). At least one of the early iron workers was killed by hostile (Shawnee) Indians. Incidentally it was the iron furnace, which furnished cannon balls and canister shot used by Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans..."

Another source noted that the Bourbon furnace was located on a 10,000 acre land grant from Gov. Patrick Henry to Jacob Meyers, but in 1791 became a joint stock company headed by John Cockey Owings. It was the first iron-smelting operation built west of Allegheny Mountains. The furnace first began to make 10-gallon pots for boiling out salt at the Salt Lick Springs, but the pioneer needs soon forced the owners to make cut nails, pots and other cooking utensils, horse shoes, axe blades, hoes, stoves, plow shares, pig iron and bar iron.

The blast machinery was energized by a water wheel turning in Slate Creek. The "ore mines," composed of high grade hematite or magnetite ore about 50% pure, were located at Howard Hills and Black Horse Banks, about 2 miles from the furnace, and 3 tons of ore, pulled by oxen, were needed to produce 1 ton of pig iron. Products, which included cannon balls and canister shot, were hauled over the Iron Furnace Pike to Frankfurt on Kentucky River, from whence they were floated to Ohio River and to all points in the Midwest, as well as to New Orleans in time for the battle there in 1815.

Actually, 3 original ledgers and one account book survive between 1796 and 1818 of the Bourbon furnace. One ledger is in chronological order from Jan. 15, 1796 until Nov. 30, 1797, and is in T. D. Owings' handwriting. All four items are deposited in the archives of East Library at the University of Kentucky.9 Originally the location consisted only of the furnace and grist mill. In 1798 the Slate Forge was built on Slate Creek, 3 miles from the furnace. In 1811 a commissary was built at the furnace for the convenience of the iron workers, but in 1814 it was moved into Owingsville.

In 1810 Thomas D. Owings became sole owner of the furnace; most sources say through inheritance, and that probably included the iron ore mines as well. And whatever else there is to say, it became obvious by 1812 that Owings was becoming quite wealthy. It seems strange, however, that none of this was reflected in the will of John Cockey Owings in Baltimore, written in Feb. 1810, shortly before his death. The will stated that Owings had left only $1 to his oldest son, Thomas Deye Owings, and nothing at all to is oldest daughter, the widow Cassandra Deye Van Pradelles, who at the time was running a boarding house in New Orleans. Nearly all of his property was left to his younger children.