In the rural town of East Canaan, along the banks of the Blackberry River, there stands a curious rectangular tower. It is constructed of massive slabs of marble and reaches 40 feet high, with walls 30 feet wide at its base. The isolated tower is the last surviving example of the 19th century blast furnaces that were once commonplace Connecticut sights – there were 21 of them in northwestern Connecticut alone – and it is the namesake of East Canaan’s Beckley Furnace Industrial Monument state park, the only such state heritage site in Connecticut.
The northwest corner of Connecticut had become a center for iron production as early as the mid-18th century, after rich veins of iron ore were discovered in hills near the town of Salisbury. Iron forges and blast furnaces sprang up across the region, and during the American Revolution, Connecticut-forged iron – which proved to be of unusually high quality – helped fuel the manufacture of American weaponry, most notably cannon used by the Continental Army. Connecticut’s iron industry, though ultimately overshadowed by the massive foundries built in Pennsylvania in the 19th century, remained active until the early 20th century, when a combination of Midwestern competition, charcoal shortages, locally depleted mines, and reduced demand made it economically untenable.