Low Moor Iron Company - Historical Sketches

The production record of the Low Moor Iron Company of Virginia was presented to the Alleghany Historical Society by a Clifton Forge member. The manuscript was found in the files of the Clifton Forge Chamber of Commerce by Mrs. Lois Craft in 1947, and copies were made in September, 1966.

In 1923, the late F. U. Humbert of Low Moor was in direct management of the business.

An article in a Clifton Forge newspaper in 1923 said:

"The Low Moor Iron Company of Virginia was established in 1873 and in the year of 1880 built their first blast furnace. The business was a success from the start and their growth has been one of the fastest in this section. Two additional furnaces have been built since the company commenced operations. One is located in Covington and two are at Low Moor.

"The potential capacity of the plants is over 600 tons daily. In producing iron, the company owns limestone quarries, iron ore mines and coke ovens, as well as having extensive land possessions.

"Some idea of the immensity of the firm's operations can be gathered in the fact that in times when it is operating to full capacity, over 1,200 employees are carried in Virginia and in addition they have over 400 in West Virginia.

"The firm has large coal holdings in West Virginia and operates mines there. The total investment of the company is over three million dollars and a large portion of this is represented in this section."

The Low Moor Iron Company of Virginia was organized under a charter granted by the State of Virginia July 5, 1873.

The first two years of the Company's operations were occupied in making surveys and prospecting for iron ore by drifts, pits, shafts and mining some 5,000 tons of fossil ore. The regular opening of the several veins of Hematite ore, preparatory to a large business, commenced in 1875. From that date to 1880, the business of the company was confined to the mining and shipping of high grade iron ore.

The original holdings of the company were iron ore properties, 4,117 acres located in Alleghany County two miles south of Low Moor. Low Moor is located on the waters of the Jackson River and the main line of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad four miles west of Clifton Forge.

The 1923 holdings, owned or leased, included iron ore mines, furnace plants, limestone quarries and coke ovens in the state of Virginia, consisting of 21,904 acres and coal mines and coke ovens in the state of West Virginia, consisting of 5,396 acres, making a total of 27,300 acres.

Low Moor mines began producing ore in 1875. This ore was shipped over the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad in ten and 15 ton, four wheel "Ore Jimmies" to Quinnimont, W. Va. and was smelted in the Quinnimont Furnace, then leased by J. S. Bramwell. This continued until 1880, when the company began smelting their own ores.

These mines were operated continually until 1898 when part of them were abandoned on account of the ore being exhausted and an excessive amount of water which did not allow an economical operation. The fossil ore was mined from 1905 until 1910. The above mines produced 1,067,189 tons of ore.

Stack Mines, Dolly Ann and the Iron Mountain leases were acquired in 1893. Stack Mines is located on the main line of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, ten miles west of Covington and was operated until 1910 producing 305,472 tons of ore. This mine was abandoned on account of a washer being destroyed by fire and not enough ore in sight to rebuild.

Dolly Ann and Iron Mountain were operated jointly, both being located on a branch line of the Low Moor Railroad, two and six miles east of Covington. The Iron Mountain lease expired in 1900 and Dolly Ann was abandoned in 1921 on account of the ore being exhausted. While these mines were operating they produced 897,239 tons of ore.

Fenwick Mine was acquired in 1899 and is located in Craig County on a branch line of the Low Moor Railroad, one and one-half miles north of Barbours Creek. Barbours Creek being on the Craig Valley Branch of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, 22 miles southwest of Eagle Mountain. In 1923 this mine was still producing and was said to be the best iron ore mine in the state of Virginia. It has produced 938,560 tons of ore and has blocked out, ready to be extracted, 1,000,000 tons.

Rumsey Mine was acquired in 1900, replacing the Iron Mountain lease and was located on a branch line of the Low Moor Railroad, four miles west of Covington. Owing to the low grade of ore produced at this mine, it was only operated two or three years, producing 90,180 tons of ore.

Jordan Mines was leased in 1906 and was located on the Potts Valley branch of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, 17 miles southwest of Covington. This mine produced 615,092 tons of ore, the lease expiring in 1920.

The Longdale Mines were leased in 1914 and were located on a branch railroad of the Longdale Iron Company, 11 miles east of Longdale Station. Longdale Station being on the main line of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, two miles east of Clifton Forge. These mines were operated until 1919, producing 101,432 tons of ore. They were abandoned on account of the ore being exhausted.

The latest venture of the company in the mining game was that of leasing Rich Patch Property located four miles south of Low Moor. This was considered a very good property and was expected to produce an iron ore mine equal to any in the state.

The above mentioned mines produced ore both from open cuts and underground, however, most of the workings in 1923 were principally underground. The system of underground mining was that of the top-slicing and caving method. At the first the flooring was made with the tops and brush. Mr. Hungerford, mining engineer, conceived the idea of laying this flooring with eight and four foot cord wood, the method used in 1923.

The first washers used were the round pole chute, gravity type and no attempt was made to save the fine ore. This was followed by the "Barrel Washer" and the "Log Washer" using jigs to clean and save the fine ores. A very expensive washer was built at Jordan Mines consisting of crushing plant, vertical log washer, picking belts, jigs and recrushing plant, which demonstrated beyond a doubt that to put the low grade Virginia ores on a commercial basis, it is necessary to go to fine grading.

None of the ore mined was washed but delivered to the furnace plants in the crude state. Every precaution was taken to pick out foreign matter.

The Low Moor Quarry began producing stone in 1881. At first it was like all other quarries, that is, it was an outside quarry, but later it was made an underground quarry on account of the over burden. It is said by some to be the original underground quarry of the world, but the possibility of this is rather remote; however, it is the original underground limestone quarry of the United States. This quarry produced 2,140,611 tons of stone by 1923.

Panther Gap Quarry was acquired in 1909 and is located on the main line of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad two miles west of Goshen. This quarry was operated as the supply demanded and by 1923 had produced 18,291 tons.

Quarries were operated at Jordan and Longdale in connection with the mining and produced 3,370 and 12,135 tons respectively.

In 1899 a large tract of valuable coal land was acquired in Fayette County, W. Va., located on the waters of the New River and the main line of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, 50 miles east of Charleston, W. Va. in the New River Gorge.

The first coal mined by this company was in the Fayette Mine. This mine was operated until 1902 and was sold. The tonnage record for this mine had been misplaced.

Kay Moor Mine No. 1 was opened in 1900 in the New River Gorge and by 1923 had produced 2,947,112 tons of coal and was known then as one of the best mines in the New River Field.

Kay Moor Mine No. 2 was opened in 1903 replacing the Fayette Mine and by 1923 had produced 562,088 tons of coal.

In 1881, 135 twelve-foot Beehive, hand drawn ovens at Low Moor were built and in 1900, 25 twelve-foot Bee-hive machine drawn ovens were built. In 1916, 100 fourteen-foot Bee-hive machine drawn ovens were built replacing the original 135 ovens. (Remains of several of these ovens are still standing on the north side of Interstate 64 in line with Alleghany Regional Hospital. Construction of the Interstate destroyed most of the ovens.) The tonnage records on coke manufactured at Low Moor from 1881 to 1902 have been misplaced, however, since that time the record shows that 579,649 tons have been manufactured.

In 1898, a block of 50 twelve-foot Bee-hive machine drawn ovens were built at Covington and were operated until 1919, producing 207,238 tons.

Ovens at Kay Moor were begun in 1900 but they were not completed until 1915 and in 1923, 202 Beehive machine drawn ovens had been built producing 974,261 tons of coke.

The company operated three blast furnaces known as A, B, and C furnaces. A and B were located at Low Moor (where Alleghany Regional Hospital is now ) and C at Covington just south of Alleghany Motors).

A furnace was completed in 1880 and blown in on its initial blast Oct. 11, 1880. By 1923 it had produced 862,366 tons of iron.

B furnace was completed in 1887 and blown in July 26,1887. It went out of its last blast June 25, 1919, having produced 898,131 tons of iron.

C furnace was acquired in 1893 but was not put into operation until April 25, 1895. It had produced 543,457 tons of iron by 1923.

All of these furnaces were hand filled furnaces, the raw materials being wheeled from the stock piles by hand in two wheel buggies, hoisted to the top of the furnace on a cage and distributed by hand into the furnace bell. About 1904, this method of filling was replaced by the automatic dump skip hoists, the raw materials being transferred from stock pile to skip pit in cars.

In 1920 C furnace was rebuilt and equipped with a bucket hoist for filling and motor haulage for transferring raw materials from stock bins. This was the most modern practice for filling, the advantage over the skip hoist being that the materials are more uniformly distributed in the furnace.

The Low Moor furnaces served as a market for the first slack coal shipped out of the New River Field. This slack was made near Thurmond at a mine operated by Mr. Beury, the slack being screened out over gravity pole screens.

Statistics on the amount of production are from the Low Moor Iron Company records found by Mrs Craft in 1947. 
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