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Forging memories at the Maryland Iron Festival

Forging memories at the Maryland Iron Festival

When visitors attend the inaugural Maryland Iron Festival on May 18 and 19, they will be stepping back in time. For years, the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society hosted a village festival called Spring in the Village.

The Maryland Iron Festival is a “rebranded, revamped, re-everything” version of the spring festival, said Elizabeth Comer, an archeologist who is secretary of the CFHS board.

The weekend event is being held at historic Catoctin Furnace in Thurmont, Md., as well as at Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park. A wide variety of activities offer a taste of life in the historic village and surrounding area, known for iron making.

“The whole concept is to make this an area-wide event,” Comer said.

Catoctin Furnace was a bustling, iron-making community at the base of the Catoctin Mountains for more than 100 years. It began as a family-owned and operated business in 1776, similar to many of Washington County’s iron works, according to the Washington County Historical Society website.

The family-friendly free event includes traditional blacksmithing, casting and molding demonstrations, live music and performances, artists, craftspeople and plein air artists for all to enjoy. Spring plant and flower sales, children’s activities, a “feats of strength” tournament and tours of historic buildings and the iron furnace will also be available.

In addition, there will be historic food and local wine and craft beer for sale. Some special activities include a small fee.

A 1920 photo of the forgeman’s house in Catoctin Furnace in Thurmont, Md., where laborers clothing and household linens were found in the attic in May 2015 during an initial renovation to the house. (Photo courtesy of Catoctin Furnace Historical Society)

A newly constructed trail between the historic village and the iron furnace will lead visitors to several historic structures, including the Collier’s Log House (circa 1810), the Stone Cottage (circa 1820) and the Catoctin Iron Furnace at 12607, 12610 and 12625 Catoctin Furnace Road in Thurmont, Md.

The goal is to expand to make this a larger regional event.

“The historical society is primarily focused on the village, but when you look at the historical aspect of iron making, it’s not just the village . . . Catoctin Furnace was part of a much larger landscape,” Comer said.

With the CFHS museum under construction, Comer said they’re “just really thrilled” that the Washington County Historical Society is hosting an exhibit called “Concealed Clothing: the Treasure Trove of Catoctin Furnace.”

The exhibit features historic clothing found during a 2015 renovation of the forgeman’s house at Catoctin Furnace. The more than 100 pieces of laborers clothing was a surprise find in the attic.

“It’s significant, because we have so few examples of working class clothing,” said Anna Cueto, curator at WCHS.

The clothing was used as insulation in the attic and many pieces were patched and worn out. Many of the low-paid iron workers were slaves or indentured servants, Cueto said.

Historic clothing from Catoctin Furnace in Maryland is prepared for an exhibition by Sarah Nucci, a clothing preservationist. (Photo courtesy of Catoctin Furnace Historical Society)

“We’ll be focusing on what the clothing tells us about the people who worked at Catoctin Furnace,” said Cueto, who noted there were iron works in Washington County, as well.

The “Concealed Clothing” exhibit opens May 11 at WCHS, 135 W. Washington St., Hagerstown and runs through July 27. Visitors can take self-guided tours Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Guided tours can be arranged with advance notice.

There is a $5 admission fee. It is free for WCHS members and children 12 and under.

“We hope a lot of people come out to see it. It’s a phenomenal collection. We’re super excited to be able to host it,” Cueto said.

Top photo: Courtesy of NPS Catoctin Mountain.

If you go ...

WHAT: The Maryland Iron Festival "Mountains, Metal and Malt" 
WHEN: Saturday, May 18 and Sunday, May 19 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Kickoff event at Thurmont Regional Library on Friday, May 17 from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Reservations are preferred. Please call 443-629-8661 to RSVP.)
WHERE: Historic Catoctin Furnace in Thurmont, Md.,  Catoctin Mountain Park and Cunningham Falls State Park
COST: Free admission 
CONTACT: For more information, call 443-463-6437 or click here.

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