Our 12 acre farm is steeped in history. The Bloomery was the first ironworks west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the first in present West Virginia.:
Shenandoah Bloomery, near Charles Town, also known as Vestal’s Bloomery, was the first ironworks west of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the first in present West Virginia.
“A bloomery was a cheaper, simpler way to produce iron than by using a blast furnace. Like contemporary blast furnaces, the bloomery used charcoal for fuel, but unlike the blast furnace the iron ore never reached a temperature high enough for it to melt. In the bloomery operation, charcoal and iron ore were ignited and air applied. A spongy iron developed. The spongy iron contained large amounts of impurities, mostly slag and dirt, and had to be hammered to eliminate these impurities. Bloomery production was limited, less than 100 pounds of iron per firing. A bloomery was most frequently used in frontier situations, meeting local needs until more established blast furnace and forge operations appeared.
“William Vestal, John Traden, Richard Stevenson, and Daniel Burnet contracted Thomas Mayberry in 1742 to construct a ‘Bloomery for making Barr iron, upon the present plantation of William Vestal lying upon Shunandore [sic].’ Mayberry agreed to erect a bloomery, raceways, water wheels, and dam. The completed bloomery was located in Jefferson County on the north bank of Evitts Creek, near its confluence with the Shenandoah River.
“Vestal operated the bloomery until about 1760, when the property passed to the Fairfax family. George William Fairfax and his brother-in-law, John Carlyle, planned to operate Bloomery Mills, but it is unlikely that the pair ever smelted any iron. Today, the town of Bloomery is the only tangible reminder of the pioneering ironworks.”
-written by Lee R. Maddex
Bloomery also held the honor of the largest bootlegging operation in the area. More illegal ‘shine came through this one tiny hamlet than in any other area in the state. Even the structural elements of our historic log cabin distillery are tied to moonshining. In 1870 two new additions were added to the original log cabin. The board and baton were from dismantled gundalows—ferry boats used to haul people and product across the Shenandoah River. At night, by the light of the moon, the boats also hauled moonshine. The captains of the gundalows were known as moonshine boatmen.
There is a historical reference to a distillery on the property in 1796, and again in 1835 February 13: Accounting of sale of Adam Eichelberger’s property. Joseph Eichelberger buys three stills for a significant price of $74 (Jefferson County Will Book 8, page 229).
Craft culture tends to erase the long history of Black alcohol production, but history is beginning to reveal that America’s initial craft distillers were the enslaved men, woman and children who toiled and worked the stills on Plantations.
The original one room cabin with upstairs sleeping area was built around 1840. It served as one of three dwellings of the Willowdale Plantation that housed humans who were enslaved, and is currently one of two original such cabins left standing in Jefferson County.
The 1852 Jefferson County Map identifies the property as belonging to the Eichelberger family, descendants of Philip Frederick Eichelberger (1693 – 1776), a German immigrant.
George William Eichelberger (1820 – 1881) was a “gentleman” farmer. By the time he was 30, his household included his father, the family dwelling, and a 94 year old German relative. George William Eichelberger served as a justice on the Magistrate’s Court for the preliminary hearing of John Brown.
According to the 1860 “Slave Schedule for Jefferson County, VA”, George William Eichelberger enslaved 13 men, women and children in this location who were housed in 3 tiny dwellings.
Seven men ranging in age from 3 years to 34 years
Six women ranging in age from 5 years to 38 years
Those men and women who were enslaved, with estimated years of birth were:
Men: 1826, 1832, 1845, 1847, 1851, 1852, 1857
Women: 1822, 1836, 1844, 1848, 1853, 1855
Most of the men, women and children who were enslaved by descendants of George William Eichelberger appear to have left that area by 1870.
According to the 1883 map of Jefferson County, VA, George W. Marlow acquired the Willowdale Plantation. The circa 1870 additions were of timber frame, covered in pine plank and batten. The board and batten were salvaged from original C&O canal boats, and added to the sides of the cabin resulting in a small six room house, as it still stands today.