Ironworks finally gets its place in Chesterfield history

The Falling Creek Ironworks Foundation got a little closer to their dream for the rich historic and industrial heritage of the Falling Creek area off Jefferson Davis Highway this January.  The Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors paved the way during the second board meeting of the new year with the approval of matching grant money in the amount of  $286,395, bringing the total to $528,000 for the current phase, to continue a project that was birthed over 15 years ago.   

“It takes a long time to get a project off the ground,” said Michel Golden, director of Chesterfield County Parks and Recreation. The project concept is to develop a park providing access to an area where the first ironworks was established by the Virginia Company in 1619.  The park will help to interpret the story of the five attempts of iron working in the area as well as a grist mill established by Archibald Cary in the 18th century.  

A landscaped entrance, interpretative signage along the trail, green space for visitors and a 22-car parking lot is part of the plan. A feasibility study will be conducted on the reconstruction of the granite bridge, which dates back to 1826, destroyed by Tropical Storm Gaston.  Funds from a grant provided to the Jefferson Davis Association (JDA) Redevelopment Committee from the HUD Community Development Block Grant Program and contributions from local businesses for the group’s streetscape project. It will update the roadway and provice 400 feet of sidewalks on both sides of the Rt. 1 in front of the park’s entrance and provide a new crossover on Jefferson Davis Highway for the residents from the apartment community and visitors to the park.

Long-time Bensley resident, JDA board and foundation board member Norma Corbin represents the association in the restoration and preservation of the Ironworks project.  

“Brian Walker actually brought the attention of the county to the site in 1995,” Corbin said.   Walker is also life-long member of the Bensley/Falling Creek community.   Corbin, Margaret Davis, also a board member and life-long member of the community, and Walker has fond memories of growing up as a child and the fun they had at the falls and running along the creek.  Corbin said she had no knowledge of the history growing up in the area.  “Neither do the children today,” she said.  She wants to change that. “Walker got the county to give the area a historic designation and the county purchased the property in 2002,” said Corbin.  Soon after JDA was formed in 1998, a committee was formed to preserve, investigate, enhance and interpret the site of the first ironworks in the New World.   The Falling Creek Ironworks Foundation was formed in 2000 to further the development and became an independent 501(C) 3 non-profit organization in 2002.  The foundation is a partner with the county.  Walker serves as President and Corbin as Vice President.

“We had big dreams,” she said.  “They all cost a lot of money.”    

Their dreams include a museum to display all the artifacts found around the site, as well as tell the history of the site and the areas along the corridor.  They also wanted to conduct a dig to find the original iron works.

The Falling Creek Ironworks Foundation engaged archaeologist Lyle Browing with Lyle Browning & Associates, Ltd. early on to conduct the studies of the area.

Timbers that washed out of the bank after two major storms in 2007 brought much excitement to the foundation and county.  They were tested by dendrochronology to determine their calendar year dates. Oxford Dendrochronology performed the testing. Two cut dates were identified in multiple timbers. Hoping they were from the original ironworks of 1619, the first cut was found to be from the period 1730-1740 which corresponded with Archibald Cary’s inheritance of the property in 1750. The second cut set was in the period 1760-1770 corresponding with a rebuild that Cary apparently had done at the outbreak of the American Revolution.  The timbers continue to be in full view today.  The foundation still has plans to conduct a dig to try to locate the original site.

According to Golden, completion of the project will take around 18 months.  Work should begin in June.

If interested in learning more about the history, the foundation will hold their Annual Falling Creek Ironworks tour Saturday, March 17, depending on weather, from Noon to 4 p.m.

Exhibits of crafts including blacksmithing, Native American life and a variety of displays about the ironworks will be set up. Also included will be costumed interpretation, living history, period music and children’s activities.  Guided tours of the ironworks will be conducted by Lyle Browning and the foundation’s members.  For more information contact Bryan Truzzie at 751-4946 or www.fallingcreekironworks.org.  This event is free.

Truzzie is conducting a walking tour this Saturday, Feb. 18 of the ironworks site as a preliminary to the March event.  Discussion will include the history, recent archeology of the site and a time-line of the industrial achievements with the iron furnace from the 1600s to the time of Archibald Cary’s in the 1700s. There is an $8 fee for the tour.  Cutoff for registration is Friday, Feb. 17.  To register call 748-1623 and request course #22811.  Five reservations are needed to conduct the program.  Participants will meet at Bensley Park for a group van ride to the park.  

Falling Creek Ironworks is located just off the 6000 block of Jefferson Davis Highway.  For more information visit Fallingcreekironworks.org

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