When assessing the history of Stokes County, it is easy to see why so many historical markers are in place. The region is steeped in history waiting to be told.
Moratock Park and the Iron furnace that gave it its name is one of those places.
Moratock Park is situated on the Dan River, a tributary to the Roanoke River. The park itself is open dawn to dusk and boasts many events and functions during the year including the Annual Stokes Stomp that just occurred on Sept. 11. Restrooms, picnic shelters, ballfield, and access for tubing, kayaking, canoeing, beach fun and history can all be found and had within the park’s boundaries.
The Moratock Iron furnace is the history.
The furnace and destroyed foundry works were built in 1843 by Nathaniel Moody and John Pepper for Moody’s Tunnel Works. The site originally comprised 107 acres, purchased in 1840 for $300 from Alexander Hampton. One account stresses that an iron works had already been in place upon the purchase of land.
After the paperwork was complete the two men set out to build a magnificent furnace and forge. The furnace has a 28-foot square base and is 28-foot square in height, a dirt floor, and supporting frame of iron bars on the inside. Fed with charcoal, brown hematite, and limestone the forge was brought to life. The waterwheel powered bellows, fed to the flames to help render iron pieces. Water was fed in by an intricate flume system. All these elements relied on the Dan River to keep operations afloat. In 1974, when the site was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places only depressions remained of the forge, supporting flumes, and buildings. All but the furnace was destroyed during the Civil War.
In 1854 Reuben Golding of Stokes County purchased the forge for $3,000, forming the Stokes Iron Mining Company. Cut off from other supply sources, Confederate forces needed a way to create swords and munitions, so old forges were fired up to heed the call for arms. The company supplied units with iron works until General George Stoneman came through with his raid destroying the foundry in April, unaware that Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865.
After the war the site sat damaged until 1875 when Johnathan Heck purchased the property during a foreclosure. He operated the site until his death in 1894. Bought by the Taylor family sometime after Heck’s death, the site remained with the family until they deeded it to the county in 1973. Work began to protect and interpret the site, leading to it being added on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1974.
Today the furnace is a staple in Stokes County and Moratock Park. The history is ever present; next time you are in the area stop by and take advantage of all the amenities the park has to offer. Be sure to stroll past the furnace and think of the history that has taken place there. Afterall it is our history.
Emily Morgan is the guest services manager at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. She and her family live in Westfield. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 336-786-4478 x229