Happy summer all! July is in its glory of hot, humid days and summer thunderstorms. From the late 1970's to the mid 1980's, I worked for Brockton Tool Company, in the former Morse Thread Mill on Central Street. The company management kept some time honored traditions such as a two week shutdown each year, usually around the time their customers also shut down. Summer shutdowns in the old factories were the norm due to the high heat that could build up inside the old mills. Our shutdown was always the last two weeks of July, and they were always the hottest weeks of summer.
Speaking of heat, today's photo from the Belcher photo album (detailed last week) is directly related to some "hot" work. In colonial Easton and the colonies in general, the ability to produce good quality iron was as important as any other business venture. Besides providing the material for tools and hardware, iron also provided the necessary armaments to further the cause of freedom during the Revolutionary War. Having a means to produce iron meant less dependency on foreign imports and heavy taxes.
Perhaps the most important person in this endeavor was the charcoal maker. Charcoal was needed to produce enough heat to smelt and refine the bog iron ore that was so easily found here. A normal wood fire could not produce the high temperatures needed for iron work. Making charcoal was no easy matter. It might take an acre of hardwood to supply enough charcoal for one day's firing of the furnace. Once enough wood was cut and split, a specially built pile was made with vents and a chimney, and once covered with earth, the initial firing could begin. It took up to two weeks of constant burning and monitoring to produce usable charcoal. Charcoal makers led a hermetic lifestyle, and often were feared men. As glad as the foundrymen were to see them with their load of charcoal, they were perhaps even glader to see them retreat back into the woods to begin the next batch.
Little remains around Easton from those days. I knew of several charcoal pits around Furnace Village, but they have all disappeared. However, the attached photo preserves an even rarer thing: the charcoal maker's shelter. Shelters like these were built in the rough shape of the charcoal piles themselves, covered with sod or earth, and provided shelter from which the charcoal makers could watch their operation. This is an example of one of those shelters which was once a common sight around Easton. While it is hard to specifically locate where this shelter once stood, I believe the houses in the background are on Bay Road close to the Five Corners. Thanks to our intrepid photographer Mr. Belcher, we have a precious record of what was once part of an important industry in Easton.
For more on charcoal making, check out this short essay: https://www.engr.psu.edu/MTAH/essays/making_charcoal.htm.
Until next week,