Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Shenandoah Bloomery

Shenandoah Bloomery, near Charles Town, also known as Vestal’s Bloomery, was the first ironworks west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the first in present West Virginia.

A bloomery was a cheaper, simpler way to produce iron than by using a blast furnace. Like contemporary blast furnaces, the bloomery used charcoal for fuel, but unlike the blast furnace the iron ore never reached a temperature high enough for it to melt. In the bloomery operation, charcoal and iron ore were ignited and air applied. A spongy iron developed. The spongy iron contained large amounts of impurities, mostly slag and dirt, and had to be hammered to eliminate these impurities. Bloomery production was limited, less than 100 pounds of iron per firing. A bloomery was most frequently used in frontier situations, meeting local needs until more established blast furnace and forge operations appeared.

William Vestal, John Traden, Richard Stevenson, and Daniel Burnet contracted Thomas Mayberry in 1742 to construct a ‘‘Bloomery for making Barr iron, upon the present plantation of William Vestal lying upon Shunandore [sic].’’ Mayberry agreed to erect a bloomery, raceways, water wheels, and dam. The completed bloomery was located in Jefferson County on the north bank of Evitts Creek, near its confluence with the Shenandoah River.

Vestal operated the bloomery until about 1760, when the property passed to the Fairfax family. George William Fairfax and his brother-in-law, John Carlyle, planned to operate Bloomery Mills, but it is unlikely that the pair ever smelted any iron. Today, the town of Bloomery is the only tangible reminder of the pioneering ironworks.

Written by Lee R. Maddex


  1. Wayland, John W. Hopewell Friend History, 1734-1934, Frederick County, Virginia. Strasburg, VA: Shenandoah Pub. House, 1936.

  2. Iron Industry in Jefferson County. Jefferson County Historical Society Magazine, (Dec. 1964).