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The village that time forgot

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In 1732, John Branson obtained a 1,000-acre grant from George Bowman along Cedar Creek. He sold a parcel of land sometime later to John Kountz. In August of 1745, Lewis Stephens, a local land speculator, and developer, purchased a 195-acre property from Kountz on Cedar Creek. The tract lay on both sides of Middle Road (State Route 628), about seven miles to the southwest of what is now Stephens City and 5 miles northwest of Middletown.

18th century hexagonal ice house of unusual design, also known as Stephens Fort. Photos courtesy of Nancy Gunderman

Around 1755, Stephens built a house and a water-powered grist mill on the property at the confluence of Cedar Creek and Fawcett Run. His mill successfully ground wheat, rye, oats, and barley into flour and meal.

Sometime in 1752, before the French and Indian War (1754–1763), Stephens constructed a unique hexagonal-shaped stone powder magazine adjacent to his house and mill. Local lore maintains that the building, which still stands today, was “Stephens Fort.” This structure is mentioned in accounts of frontier happenings, many of which included Stephens’s offering protection and shelter for neighbors during several Native American raids. The building has limestone walls that are eight feet high, one foot thick and measure fourteen feet across the center. From the ground level, the cellar floor lays nineteen feet below and has a circular limestone foundation. Troops from Washington’s Regiment were garrisoned in a stockade here in the fall of 1757. The building was later used as an office or counting-house, a lodging room, a storeroom, and an ice house.

After the war, Stephens contracted for one furnace and forge, named New Work Furnace and Forge, to manufacture pig and bar iron on his tract at Cedar Creek. These crude production units produced basic commodities like frying pans, nails, hinges, musket barrels and agricultural implements during the early 1760s.

The foundation of a covered bridge that burned in 1930 is evident on both sides of Cedar Creek.

Stephens continued to live on this tract and work on the iron furnace, however, he gradually found his debts too excessive and had to form partnerships to share his costs. In 1767, Stephens sold his 195-acre tract and ironworks share to ironmaster Isaac Zane. Zane subsequently bought out his associates in 1768 and began to make significant improvements to his Marlboro Furnace and Iron Works. He retained the old forge and furnace established by Stephens but immediately began building a modern and sophisticated complex. This forge and furnace would become Zane’s most significant achievement.

The Shenandoah Valley had an abundance of the three ingredients needed to make iron: rich beds of brown hematite ore, abundant tracts of woodland and huge deposits of limestone. Limestone, iron ore and charcoal were layered into the furnace. There was a wood fire at the bottom to get things going, then a layer of charcoal, a layer of iron ore and a thin layer of crushed limestone. The limestone acted as a flux. A colonial furnace produced heat of iron once a week.

Zane built a two-story stone mansion, bathhouse, stone ice and spring houses, orchards, barns, and stables. Nearby were the forge, furnace, a two-hundred-gallon whiskey still, stone mill, sawmill, blacksmith and stone smith’s shops, company store and counting-house. In addition to the mining and industrial activities, Marlboro was also a prosperous network of farms producing wheat, barley, oats, clover, and timothy.

Just east of Middle Road, an unplanted field bounded by Cedar Creek is the site where Marlboro Furnace Towers once stood.

By all accounts, Zane’s furnace and the forge were the largest operations of its kind in the Valley. As he expanded his holdings, a small village named Marlboro (due to extensive deposits of marl that are found there) developed within close proximity of the ironworks. Marlboro became a bustling community with a steady stream of settlers (furnace men, colliers, blacksmiths, wood wrights, timbermen, and other skilled workers) searching for a better life. Near the location of the Cedar Creek Church was the Marlboro waterfall, a 25-foot cascade which tumbled down from Marlboro Spring into Cedar Creek and provided an enormous and continuous water flow. In colonial times, this water was piped east from the top of the fall by gravity to the village below. This natural water source contributed to the growth, health, and well-being of the Marlboro area. Marlboro had private homes, two churches, a mill, a country store, a post office, and two blacksmith shops. Marlboro was a mini-village and as a colonial ironworks was the most developed industrial system of its time. Zane’s colonial iron plantation supplied the village with stored goods, iron wares and agricultural products.

By 1772, the ironworks produced hundreds of portable ten-plate heating stoves and plate castings for the large open fireplaces common in colonial times. The forge and blacksmith shop also produced cooking pots, salt pans, tea kettles, skillets, mortars and pestles, ovens, stove plates, and flat irons. The 10-foot-square furnace roared, the two-hammer forge pounded, the water wheels groaned and the cacophony carried across the entire industrial complex. The operation ran 24 hours a day with laborers working 12-hour shifts. An acre of hardwood was needed to feed the furnace for each 24-hour period. At night the brilliance of the furnace illuminated the sky for many miles. The products of this industry were hauled by wagon to Alexandria on the Potomac and Falmouth on the Rappahannock and sold through merchants in Philadelphia.

The Marlboro Iron Works transitioned from casting iron ingots for export to casting full-size cannon to support the fight for American independence on land and sea. During the Revolutionary War, Zane’s Marlboro Iron Works became a munitions factory and evolved into one of the largest suppliers of ordnance to the Continental Army and Navy producing four and six-pound cannon, boxes of shot, swivel balls and chain shot. Shipments also included everything from cooking utensils, camp kettles, and stoves to a caboose (a free-standing deck house where seamen cooked meals in a galley). The Marlboro Furnace was the life-blood of the village as the ironworks peaked at 200 employees.

The iron furnaces and other production facilities that had geared up to manufacture munitions in 1776 reverted back to civilian production after 1782. The production of iron commodities at Marlboro Furnace became greatly diminished due to the declining health and death of Isaac Zane in 1795. The downsizing had an immediate effect on the blacksmiths, wood wrights, wagon wrights and other skill-mixes employed there. History reflects that some of the families from the Marlboro community later became directly associated with the wagon-building industry in Stephensburg (now Stephens City).

In 1810, Marlboro Iron Works was still being operated by Zane’s executors. However, in 1812, the furnace was transferred to a group of well-known investors and iron makers. These owners managed more modern ironworks like Columbia Furnace near Edinburg and these facilities eventually led to Zane’s Furnace becoming obsolete and abandoned in 1828.

Mill operations situated on the partial foundation of earlier mills continued to ground feed at this location until the 1950s in spite of at least two fires that seriously damaged the facility, one in the late 1800s and the other in 1930. The fire on May 15, 1930, did heavy damage to the mill and burned the covered bridge that connected Frederick and Shenandoah Counties. Mill owner L.L. Link rebuilt the mill and offered the remaining stone from the ancient furnace to the State Department of Highways for rebuilding the bridge in 1932. The current concrete bridge on Middle Road is located slightly east of the former covered bridge. All that remains of the legendary smelting furnace stack are small piles of rubble that lay alongside this rugged and historic stream.

During the height of the American Revolution, the Marlboro Furnace and surrounding village became one of the most important industrial centers in the Valley, benefiting both Frederick and Shenandoah counties. But by the mid-twentieth century, the village had faded into a quiet stop on Middle Road and the centuries-old buildings only footnotes in our valley history. The once prominent village of forge, furnace, mills, and farm became lost to time, a remnant of our colonial past.

Mark P. Gunderman
Stephens City, Virginia

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Campsite kitchen essentials

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Are you going camping? With a bit of preparation, you can eat as well as you do at home. In addition to food, here’s what you’ll need.

• Matches, lighters or firelighters
• Plates and bowls
• Cups and mugs

• Cutlery
• Cooking utensils (spatula, tongs, etc.)
• Pots and pans
• Knives
• A cutting board
• A can opener
• A dishpan, biodegradable soap, a sponge and towels
• Containers, bags and food wrap for storing leftovers
• Aluminum foil
• Paper towels
• Garbage bags
• Potable water
• A cooler and ice bags
• A coffee maker
• A camp stove and fuel
• A telescoping fork
• A grill (for cooking on the fire)
• Scissors

For added convenience, use foldable or nestable tableware, multi-purpose cutlery, and cookware with detachable handles. This way you can reduce your load but still have a hearty spread.

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On the road – family life in an RV

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Step aside, tiny homes. Now it’s all about tiny homes on wheels. (Or are they ginormous trucks instead?)

RV living is all the rage, and more and more families are setting out on adventures in their motor homes. It’s a great way for kids to learn history and geography first-hand, to bring the family pet and the stuffed animals along, and to have never-ending campfires.

Family life in an RV is also no joke. Consider one bathroom, limited storage space, and rainy days. But with some advanced planning, family RV life can prove rewarding.

Two recommended items: blackout curtains and a white noise machine. The curtains help you potentially avoid a 5:30 a.m. wakeup call, while a white noise machine helps the younger ones sleep, gives the adults a little privacy, and can help with rowdy neighbors.

Other suggestions:

* Downsize, downsize, downsize. Ain’t no shame in wearing the same tee-shirt over and over; in fact, it’s a necessity.

* Consider Roadschooling. Roadschooling is a form of homeschooling in which zoos, museums, and science centers participate in reciprocal programs.

* Planning: get on it. You might consider yourself nomads, but a little planning goes a long way while still allowing you to explore. It’s important to know where you’re headed and what amenities they have (industrial-sized washers and dryers, anyone?).

* Bring some familiar items. Adventure is fun but it can also be disorienting. Let kids bring some familiar items for when homesickness sets in.

* Get online. A multitude of Facebook groups and online communities exist to help with ideas and support.

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A guide to cycling etiquette and safety

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When you ride a bike, it’s important to be courteous and respect the rules of the road. Here’s how to stay safe and be considerate toward motorists, pedestrians, and other cyclists.

Signal your intentions
Make sure to always let other road users know where you want to go, using your left arm to indicate that you’re about to turn. To signal you want to go left, extend your arm straight to the side. To indicate you want to turn right, bend your arm up¬ward at the elbow.

You should also warn pedestrians and cyclists if you intend to pass them by calling out or using your bell. Before coming to a complete stop, pull over to the side so you don’t cause an accident.

Ride single file
If you cycle with others, don’t ride side by side. This can obstruct oncoming cyclists and prevent others from safely passing you. Additionally, zigzagging between pedestrians and other cyclists and deviating into empty parking spaces can be dangerous.

Keep your distance
Don’t attempt to pass another cyclist if you might brush up against them or have to squeeze through a narrow space. In addition to being rude, this can lead to an accident.

Wait your turn
When you’re at a red light, don’t try to advance to the front of the line. Be patient and give priority to the people who were there first. If someone allows you to go ahead of them, be sure to wave or otherwise signal your thanks.

Finally, remember to be tolerant of inexperienced and slow cyclists. They may not know proper cycling etiquette yet and are still learning.

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Can’t get out for Memorial Day? Try this

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A treasured tradition for many is to decorate graves on Memorial Day.

How pleasant it is on a sunny day to finally find the right stone, pull a couple of weeds around it, then arrange the flowers.

But, inevitably, some things get in the way of that trip: Bad weather, no ride, or quarantine for some virus.

No matter!

You can still visit the grave at the website Find A Grave — and you can leave digital flowers too.

Find A Grave has an amazing database of gravesites around the country. Even small historical cemeteries are listed.

Thanks to the work of volunteers around the country, Find A Grave has grown to be a huge index of cemeteries.

You can search by name or cemetery to find your loved one. You can leave digital flowers and even a note. You’ll also be able to see notes others have left.

So if you can’t get to the cemetery on Memorial Day, you’ll discover Find A Grave a very satisfying option.

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What time is mocktail hour?

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In one of the latest trends that could be voted Best Oxymoron, consumers are heading to cocktail bars and buying boozy drinks with no booze.

The zero-proof drink movement is an actual thing, says PopSugar, which claims the latest trend in alcohol is – nonalcoholic.

Imagine trendy cocktail bars creating elaborate mocktails with faux spirits. There’s Getaway, an alcohol-free bar in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Vena’s Fizz House in Portland, Maine, a cocktail/mocktail bar and mixology shop.

Even those who question the point of a cocktail without a kick – kind of like decaf coffee, no? – would likely admit that the drink menus do sound delicious. Consider Vena’s drink called Blackheart, made of blackberry puree, honey, lime, and bitters; or the Kickstarter, with Fire cider, ginger beer, blood orange, and bitters.

Getaway’s menu is decidedly quirky, featuring drinks with names like “A trip to Ikea,” made with lingonberry, lemon, vanilla, elderflower tonic, cream, and cardamom. Or the Coconaut, with pineapple, coconut milk, cream of coconut, blood orange soda, and nutmeg.

At-home drinkers (non-drinkers?) have a growing number of choices, too. Two Roots Brewing Company, Fre Wines, Kin Euphorics, and Ritual boast alcohol-free versions of popular beverages.

Because no matter how hard we try, a seltzer is never as satisfying as sipping on a hearty glass of red.

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5 ways to share Memorial Day with your kids

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Memorial Day, which falls on May 25 this year, is an ideal occasion for kids to learn about the brave men and women who died serving their country. Here are five ways you can pay tribute to our national heroes with your kids on Memorial Day.

1. Visit a cemetery or memorial. While not every community has a veteran cemetery, most have a memorial to fallen soldiers. Visiting such a location with your kids is a good way to honor the fallen and open a dialogue on the topic of service.

2. Attend a parade. If your children have never seen soldiers before, attending a Memorial Day parade will provide an opportunity for them to observe men and women in uniform. If there aren’t any parades in your region, you can watch one on television or YouTube.

3. Write to active service members. Help your kids make cards, draw pictures, or write letters for soldiers deployed overseas. Active service members will appreciate the gesture and your kids will become more familiar with the importance of supporting our troops.

4. Learn about military history. Watch a documentary or read a book with your kids to teach them about the role America and its military have played in global history.

5. Share a meal. Make a Memorial Day themed meal with your kids. Little ones are sure to enjoy decorating a star-spangled cake, and if you’re planning on hosting family and friends, ask your children to help set the table, decorate the house or greet your guests.

While it’s become associated with sales and celebrations, it’s important to keep the origins of Memorial Day alive for younger generations. This holiday is an ideal time to teach your children about the sacrifices our service members have made.

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