Furnace Town: Step back in time with living history exhibit near Snow Hill, Md.
By Wayne Hinshaw
A visit to Furnace Town near Snow Hill, Md., is like a step back to the mid-1800s.
Snow Hill was chartered in 1686. It is now the county seat of Worcester County, with 2,500 residents. With its historic structures and five art galleries, it has been called the “The Attic of Worcester County.”
From 1828 until 1850, the Nassawango Iron Furnace operated gathering bog ore from the Nassawango swamp. Clam and oyster shells were moved up the Pocomoke River from the Chesapeake Bay and charcoal was made in the Pocomoke Forest.
Adding these materials to a 3,000 degree-furnace produced iron that was shipped to cities like Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York.
The Maryland Iron Company built a company town called Nescongo or Nasseongo. Some 300 peopled live in the small town, raising families, running the iron furnace and worshipping. The town had blacksmiths, broom makers, bakers, cobblers, and weavers. Each family had a garden to grow their own food.
In 1850, the company went bankrupt, and the 7,000 acres with beds of iron ore, the grist mill, barns, stores, and other buildings were offered for sale. The residents moved away for other jobs and the buildings slowly decayed away, thus ending the town.
In the 1960s, the Worcester County Historical Society became interested in saving their history. In 1982, Furnace Town Foundation was formed to recreate the village as a living museum.
Much like Rowan County’s Gold Hill village, Furnace Town’s restorers set about moving structures and buildings from the 1800s to the site to recreate a living museum. The brick iron furnace is the only original structure that has survived the 150 years. The wooden ramp to the top of the furnace has been replaced.
An old Methodist church dating 1874 was moved to the village. The Old Nazareth Church which was also a Methodist church, which replaced the Shingled Meeting House.
The woodworker’s shop houses the tool collection of German master craftsman Ernest Glaser.
The weave shop has two looms making rugs and household items.
There is a broom house where brooms are made.
There is a print shop with presses for printing.
The kitchen garden grows vegetables and herbs that were popular in the 1800s.
All of the historic structures are unique, with costumed workers demonstrating how life was in Furnace Town.