Ghost Expedition Worcester County, Snow Hill Maryland: Nassawango Furnace Archaeological Site/Furnace Town Living Heritage Village
According to the historian Mercedes Quesada-Embid, the story of Furnacetown and the Nassawango Iron Furnace in Snow Hill Maryland involves transitions through eras of colonial expansion, industrial boom and bust, abandonment followed by environmental renewal, conservation and historic preservation
The wetlands, forests and coasts in the greater Nassawango Creek were initially settled by the Pokemoke and Assateague tribes. In the Pokemoke language, Nassawango means “the ground between the streams.” The Nassawango Creek is the main tributary of the Pokemoke river which empties into the Chesapeake Bay
The initial contact with the native tribes was made by the Englishman, Captain John Smith in 1608. Native villages were not concentrated nor permanent settlements; families and tribes relocated as seasons changed. Small areas and passages were cleared for hunting and gathering, farming and protection
The initial exchanges between natives and settlers were cooperative during a short-lived fur trading industry. As settlements expanded and colonial land uses turned toward tobacco farming, forest areas were cleared for agricultural use. Deforestation and the rise of large-scale plantations altered the natural habitat accelerating the disappearance of the native way of life, leading to conflicts over land
Native tribes were relocated to a portion of the Nassawango near present day Snow Hill known as Askiminkonson, which in Algonquin means “stony place where they pick early berries.” The swampy lowland was considered not suitable for farming. Native petitions to the English government were unsuccessful and the reservation dwindled. By 1750 there there was no native presence
Nassawango creek entered an industrial era when a charter was granted to the Maryland Iron Company in 1829. The company claimed 5000 acres of forest and swamp lands, which were rich in bog ore, as well as a gristmill, sawmill and millpond. A hot blast furnace was built by 1831. From oral histories, the company erected a
with streets, company stores, a blacksmith, a dressmaker, hotel, post office and church
The company ran into financial troubles by 1832 and was fully acquired by a wealthy Philadelphia-based industrialist named Ben Jones by 1834. In 1835, the operation was leased to a Thomas Spence, a young lawyer based in Snow Hill. For a time the operation flourished and was producing 700 tons of pig iron annually. The furnace ran for 24 hours per day for 32 weeks out of the year. Light from the orange flames produced by the furnace could be seen for miles
However, poor ore quality and declining market demand led to closure by 1850. Nearly all of Furnace Town’s residents departed leaving a ghost town. After the furnace closed, the property was used by successive owners for timber rights. However, for the next 100 years, the land was untouched and ecological processes began to restore the wetlands, forests and habitats that had been cleared or polluted by slag by industrialization
Land surrounding the old furnace was donated to the Worcester County Historical Society (WCHS)
in 1962. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) acquired adjoining lands from 1977 to 1981. WCHS and TNC partnered to preserve area history and ecology and beginning in 1977 had moved several historic buildings to site to form the Furnace Town Living Heritage Museum.
The partnership formed the Furnace Town Foundation in 1982.
The Pokemoke Forest has many folklore and legends to include the Hook-Man, Goat-Man, fireballs and lights, slave and swamp ghosts, and elemental creatures. Furnace Town itself is said to haunted by the ghosts of several former area residents to include the late Sampson Harmon, the town’s last resident
Sampson Harmon was a free African-American born in Nassawango Hills. He was said to be a
“big, tall, fast, and strong man.” He was the “go-to” worker at the iron furnace and worked very hard to provide for his family. Sampson always wore a hat and was fictionalized as “Sampson Hat” in George Alfred Townsend’s novel “The Entailed Hat”
When the iron furnace closed Sampson insisted on staying in Furnace Town. His dying wish was to have his ashes left at his homestead but this was not granted. His ghost is said to wander and guard the area
The ghost expedition will seek to obtain “drop-in” communications connected with the rich and storied history of the Nassawango
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Furnace Town Living Heritage Village. (2018). Nassawango Furnace Archaeological Site, Worcester County, Snow Hill MD. Furnace Town.
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LeVan, K., and Reiten A, (2006). The Snow Hill Historic District. Snow Hill Historic District Commission. Town of Snow Hill Maryland.
Lutz, L. (2005, Jun 1). Nassawango’s furnace – and forest – rising from the ruins. Bay Journal.
Miller, N. (1973, Apr). National Register of Historic Places Registration. Nassawango Iron Furnace Site. Maryland Historical Trust.
Quesada-Embid, M. (2004). Five Hundred Years on Five Thousand Acres: Human Attitudes and Land Use at Nassawango Creek, Native Americans of the Delmarva Peninsula. Edward H. Nab Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, Salisbury University Libraries, Maryland Shared Open Access Repository (SOAR).
Robbins, M.W. (1972). The Maryland Iron Industry. Manuscript prepared for the Maryland Bi-centennial Commission, Annapolis, Maryland.
Runkle, S. A. (2003, Sep). Native American Waterbody and Place Names within the Susquehanna River Basin and Surrounding Subbasins Publication 229. Susquehanna River Basin Commission.
Sampson Harmon: Furnace Town’s Resident Cat Collecting Ghost. (2012, Oct 30). ShoreBread.
Searching for history at Furnace Town. (1990, Aug 5). The Daily Times (Salisbury MD).
Teich, I. 14 Myths and Legends Surrounding Maryland’s Haunted Pocomoke Forest. Ranker.
Touart, P. (2009). Worcesters’s African American Heritage. Worcester County Tourism.
Worcester County, Maryland: Historical Chronology. Maryland State Archives.
Bourne, M.O., photographer. (1969, Nov). Furnace Stack, looking southeast. Nassawango Furnace Archaeological Site, Worcester County, Snow Hill Maryland. Maryland Historical Trust.
Bourne, M.O., photographer.
(1969, Nov). Detail, hot air apparatus, looking northeast. Nassawango Furnace Archaeological Site, Worcester County, Snow Hill Maryland. Maryland Historical Trust.
DETAIL, ¾ VIEW OF HOT BLAST STOVE ON TOP OF FURNACE SHOWING CAST-IRON RETORTS AND TURNED HEAD (WHERE RAW MATERIALS WERE LOADED INTO FURNACE). Nassawango Iron Furnace, Furnace Road, 1.2 miles west of Maryland Route 12, Snow Hill, Worcester County, MD. Historic American Engineering Record, Library of Congress.
HAER MD,24-SNOHI.V,2- (sheet 6 of 12) – Nassawango Iron Furnace, Furnace Road, 1.2 miles west of Maryland Route 12, Snow Hill, Worcester County, MD.
Historic American Engineering Record, Library of Congress.
Sculpture of Sampson Harmon. (2018). Furnace Town Living Heritage Village. Furnace Town Foundation.
Robbins, M.W., photographer.
(1972). Furnace casting hearth, looking west. Nassawango Furnace Archaeological Site, Worcester County, Snow Hill Maryland. Maryland Historical Trust.
Nassawango Iron Furnace, looking southeast. (2018). Worcester County, Snow Hill Maryland. Furnace Town Living Heritage Village.