FOR AN INSIGHTFUL and unencumbered look into life on Maryland's Eastern Shore in the early 18th century, take a daytrip to Furnace Town. This "lost village" just north of Snow Hill in Worcester County once was a community of 500, centered on Nassawango Furnace.
At its peak, Furnace Town had a population of 500 and boasted a church, blacksmith shop, printing shop, grist mill, sawmill, shoemaker, iron-mold manufactory, general store and bank as well as the ironmaster's 14- room mansion.
After it was abandoned the town melted away, becoming little more than a clearing in a splendid belt of trees that includes our northernmost surviving cypresses. Since the start of restoration in the 1960s, authentic replicas of the smithy and printshop have been built, along with weaving and broommaking sheds. Other buildings are planned as funds become available. Nassawango Furnace was named after the nearby creek, whence came the bog-iron ore it smelted, and is in the National Register of Historic Places.
Visitors to Furnace Town get an orientation at the visitors' center/museum followed by a tour of the fruits of the efforts of the Furnace Town Foundation. Craftspersons may be seen at work at various times.
Nassawango was one of the largest and most advanced "hot blast" furnaces of the early 18th century. It was founded by Joseph Widener of Philadelphia, who discovered rich bog ore deposits along Nassawango Creek. Ownership of the furnace, three years in construction, changed hands four times.
The furnace annually produced about 700 tons of pig iron, which was shipped to Philadelphia and Baltimore. But cheaper and better metal from Pennsylvania and Britain captured the market, and Furnace Town faded.
Tapering upwards 30 feet from a 24 square foot base, the furnace had a water-powered bellows that forced air throughthe layered charcoal, oystershells and ore. Impurities were tapped off and the iron flowed through a trough called the sow into molds to form bars called pigs. Hence "pig iron." James D. Lyman, a freelance writer, lives in Kensington.
NASSAWANGO FURNACE -- Open 10 to 5 Tuesday through Sunday. Admission $1 adults, 25 cents for children. Guided tours Tuesday through Friday and by appointment. Visitors may picnic in a loblolly-shaded park and enjoy a mile of pathways through the woods and along the Nassawango Nature Conservancy.
TO GET THERE -- Take U.S. 50 east to Salisbury, and Maryland Rt. 12 south to Furnace Town. For information, 301/632-1977.