Blast furnace descendants visit Valley

Family members plan to visit the site of the Maria Furnace in Niles today.



Members of the Heaton family of Illinois learned only recently of their roots in the Mahoning Valley that helped shape the area’s industrial history.

Susan Heaton, her parents Richard and Janice Heaton, all of Princeton, Ill., and her uncle, Clifford Heaton of Urbana, Ill., are visiting the area this weekend.

“This is our first trip here, but I can tell you we will be coming back,” Susan Heaton said.

Richard and Clifford are great-great-great-grandsons of Reese Heaton, one of the brothers of Dan and James Heaton.

Dan and James built the Hopewell Furnace in 1802 or 1803 on the banks of Yellow Creek in what is now Struthers.

The furnace is referenced in the first verse of Bruce Springsteen’s “Youngstown.” It was the first blast furnace in Ohio and likely the first one west of the Allegheny Mountains.

In 1813, the brothers built the Maria Furnace on Mosquito Creek in Niles, and sometime between the mid-1820s and early 1830s, the Heatons built Mill Creek Blast Furnace.

Family members met Saturday afternoon with Mill Creek Park officials, Struthers Historical Society members and local history buffs at Pioneer Pavilion, built by James Heaton in 1821. Attendees of the informal meeting exchanged information and shared photographs.

No Heaton family remains in the Mahoning Valley, and none of the visiting descendants followed an industrial career path.

Susan Heaton grew to share her uncle’s interest in genealogy and studied to join, along with her aunt, the Daughters of the American Revolution. That’s how she learned that her family tree had early roots in the Mahoning Valley.

When a co-worker planned a visit to Youngstown, Susan asked the woman to find out anything she could about the family.

After that woman shared some of the history she learned, Susan planned a visit.

She heard the Springsteen song when she was younger, but friends persuaded her that the lyrics talked about James and Dan Eaton, rather than Heaton. The friends were wrong, but Dan did change his name to Eaton later in life.

Dr. Rick Shale, a Youngstown State University English professor and former Mill Creek Park commissioner, said the Mill Creek furnace is sometimes referred to as the Trumbull furnace because what is now Mahoning County was originally part of Trumbull County.

The Hopewell furnace, Struthers, is sometimes referred to as the Poland furnace, because where it’s located used to be part of Poland Township, he said.

According to Vindicator files, between 1806 and 1812, the furnace supplied between two and three tons of iron a week. The iron was made into stoves, kettles, skillets and flat irons for use by early pioneers.

There’s also discrepancy about when the Mill Creek furnace was built and by which Heaton, he said. Most reports put its construction between 1826 and 1832.

The Mill Creek furnace produced three to four tons of iron each day. In the 1840s, according to the marker at the park, it was rebuilt to burn bituminous coal.

Up until 2004, the only portion of the Mill Creek furnace visible were two rocks at the top. Dr. John White, YSU professor and chair of the anthropology and sociology department, a group of his students, historians and volunteers began digging it out in 2003.

It’s since become an attraction, next to Pioneer Pavilion, at the park.

Marian Kutlesa, of the Struthers Historical Society, was one of the participants of that dig. She spent most of Saturday taking the Heaton descendants to the two furnaces, and planned a visit today to Niles.

A 1934 Vindicator article described James Heaton as the founder of Niles, and family members wanted to learn about their family history in Trumbull County, too.

“We are indebted to the people here for being so hospitable,” Richard Heaton said.

They appreciated the time that park representatives, Struthers Historical Society members and others spent sharing information and showing them around town, Susan said.

“It’s like hitting the lottery of our family history,” she said.

Heaton Blast furnaceS

Valley history

Descendants of James Heaton, who built the Heaton blast furnace on Yellow Creek and the one in Mill Creek Park, visited the work of their ancestors this weekend. History:

About 1802: James and Daniel Heaton built the furnace, known as the old Hopewell furnace, down the side of Yellow Creek gorge, the first blast furnace built in Ohio and possibly the first one west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Between 1806 and 1812: At the height of its production, the furnace supplied between 2 and 3 tons of iron per week. The material was crafted into stoves, kettles, skillets and flat irons.

1812: The furnace, the remains of which are at Yellow Creek Park, Struthers, was abandoned when available workers were called away to the War of 1812.

1813: The Heatons built the Maria Furnace on Mosquito Creek in Niles.

1821: James Heaton built Pioneer Pavilion in present-day Mill Creek Park as a mill.

1826 to 1832: Heatons built Mill Creek Furnace near the mill.

1830s and 1840s: The building was converted to a storage facility for Mill Creek Furnace. It was later used as a cattle barn.

1891: Volney Rogers, the founder of Mill Creek Park, bought the pavilion.

1893: The facility was converted to a dining and dancing facility.

Sources: Vindicator archives and “Historic Mill Creek Park” by Carol Potter and Rick Shale