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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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Interesting Things to Know

Eight tips for a safe holiday season

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1. De-ice outdoor steps and walkways
To prevent holiday guests from slipping, falling, and injuring themselves while walking to your front door, clear snow and ice from your walkway, stairs, and porch. Using anti-slip products like sand, road salt, and stair covers is also a good idea.

2. Protect your pets
There are many hazards your pets may be exposed to during the holidays. Beware of candles, decorations, poisonous plants, and human foods that could make them sick. Additionally, keep pets away from the front door during the festivities.

3. Take care of your teeth
Around Christmas, candy canes, cookies, chocolates, and other sweet treats are routinely available. To prevent cavities, maintain a flawless dental hygiene routine. Be sure to brush your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes and floss daily.

4. Focus on eating a balanced diet
Overeating several days in a row can cause bloating, stomach aches, and fatigue. Opt for healthy and nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains in between decadent holiday meals.


5. Protect your home while you’re away
Break-ins frequently occur during the holiday season. If you plan to leave town for a few days, make sure your home looks lived in while you’re away. Put your lights on timers, keep a vehicle in the driveway and arrange to have your walkway cleared of snow. Additionally, consider installing a security system.

6. Put together a car emergency kit
Before driving to and from holiday celebrations, make sure you put together a car emergency kit with essentials like jumper cables, traction aids, a shovel, and a full jug of windshield washer fluid. Additionally, schedule an inspection with a mechanic to ensure your vehicle can safely handle winter road conditions.

7. Take steps to reduce the risk of a fire
To avoid accidentally starting a house fire during the holiday season, keep all flammable objects away from heat sources. Moreover, ensure your portable fire extinguisher is in good condition and your smoke alarms are working. Never leave lit candles unattended.

8. Be prepared to treat minor ailments
The holiday season can be hectic. To mitigate discomforts caused by overindulging or not getting enough sleep, stock up on over-the-counter products like pain relievers and antacids in advance. This will allow you to enjoy every celebration to the fullest.

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What you should know about young caregivers

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Not all caregivers are adults. In fact, as many as 1.4 million children in the United States between the ages of eight and 18 are caregivers. Providing support for a sick or disabled family member is a difficult and demanding job. Moreover, if a parent becomes incapacitated, many minors will also shoulder the responsibility of raising their siblings.

They face difficulties
Dealing with the obligations of being a caregiver while attending school can be challenging. Young people often aren’t seen as caregivers, forcing them to face numerous obstacles alone and in silence. Many become physically, mentally, and emotionally drained, making it difficult for them to concentrate in class. Additionally, engaging with their peers can feel overwhelming.

They need support
It’s important to support young caregivers as much as possible. If you know a young person caring for a family member, here are a few things you can do:

• Discuss the situation with their teachers
• Lend a hand with school assignments
• Arrange for them to have help at home


When supported by those around them, young caregivers can feel empowered and avoid burnout.

 

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10 gift ideas for your Christmas exchange

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Organizing a gift exchange is a great way to kick off the holidays. However, it can be difficult to buy the perfect gift when you don’t know who will receive it. This is especially true if your group has folks of various ages. Here are a few things that will please most people.

1. An insulated water bottle or coffee mug

2. A locally made spirit, beer, or wine

3. A unisex beanie or scarf in a neutral color


4. Nut-free chocolates

5. A recently released board game

6. A warm, cozy blanket

7. A nice set of wine glasses

8. A set of reusable straws that includes a cleaning brush

9. A sturdy apron with several pockets

10. A wrist or cell phone strap

If necessary, ask the gift exchange participants what they like so you can buy an item related to their common interests.

 

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Five excellent reasons to visit a Christmas market

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Every December, Christmas markets start popping up in towns across the country. Here are five great reasons to visit one in your area.

1. To find holiday gifts
Christmas markets are a great place to go if you’re looking for unique items for your friends and family members. You can find an assortment of handmade toys, crafts, baked goods, jewelry, and more.

2. To discover new products
Christmas markets typically gather hundreds of vendors in one place. If you decide to attend, you’re sure to discover new products to try.

3. To support local makers
If you want to support the artisans and producers in your region, visit your nearest Christmas market. By buying locally made goods, you’ll help stimulate your region’s economy.


4. To stock up on needed items
Christmas markets typically feature a wide range of exhibitors, so you won’t have to visit multiple stores to find everything you need for the holidays. You can load up on gourmet foods, handcrafted soaps, unique clothes, Christmas decorations, and much more.

5. To enjoy complimentary entertainment
Christmas markets frequently provide free entertainment. You may be able to enjoy a play, concert, or food tasting. In many cases, children’s activities are also offered. You can even bring the whole family and make a day of it.

This year, find out about the Christmas markets in your area and schedule a time to visit them.

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December Celebrity Birthdays!

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Do you share a birthday with a celebrity?

Susan Lucci, 73, actress (All My Children), Westchester, NY, 1949. Mingle MediaTV, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

 

1 – Bette Midler, 77, singer, actress, Paterson, NJ, 1945.

2 – Nelly Furtado, 44, singer, Victoria, BC, Canada, 1978.


3 – Daryl Hannah, 61, actress, Chicago, IL, 1961.

4 – Jay-Z, 53, rapper, and music executive, born Shawn Corey Carter,t Brooklyn, NY, 1969.

5 – Margaret Cho, 54, actress (All-American Girl), comedienne, San Francisco, CA, 1968.

6 – Janine Turner, 60, actress (Northern Exposure), Lincoln, NE, 1962.

7 – C. Thomas Howell, 56, actor, Los Angeles, CA, 1966.

8 – Dominic Monaghan, 46, actor (Lord of the Rings), Berlin, Germany, 1976.

9 – Judi Dench, 88, actress, York, England, 1934.

10 – Melissa Roxburgh, 30, actress (Manifest), Vancouver, BC, Canada, 1992.

11 – Gary Dourdan, 56, actor, Philadelphia, PA, 1966.

12 – Sheila E, 63, singer, born Sheila Escovedo, San Francisco, CA, 1959.

13 – Emma Corrin, 27, actress, Royal Tunbridge Wells, England, 1995.

14 – Vanessa Hudgens, 34, actress (Spring Breakers), Salinas, CA, 1988.

15 – Adam Brody, 43, actor (The O.C.), San Diego, CA, 1979.

16 – Theo James, 38, actor (Divergent), born Theo Taptiklis, Oxford, England, Dec 16, 1984.

17 – Sean Patrick Thomas, 52, actor, Wilmington, DE, 1970.

18 – Billie Eilish, 21, singer, born Billie Eilish Pirate Baird O’Connell, Los Angeles, CA, 2001.

19 – Kristy Swanson, 53, actress, Mission Viejo, CA, 1969.

20 – Uri Geller, 76, psychic, clairvoyant, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1946.

21 – Kiefer Sutherland, 56, actor, London, England, 1966.

22 – Ralph Fiennes, 60, actor, Suffolk, England, 1962.

23 – Susan Lucci, 73, actress (All My Children), Westchester, NY, 1949.

24 – Louis Tomlinson, 31, singer (One Direction), Louis Austin at Doncaster, England, 1991.

25 – Rachel Keller, 30, actress (Fargo), St. Paul, MN, 1992.

26 – Beth Behrs, 37, actress (Two Broke Girls), Lancaster, PA,1985.

27 – Olivia Cooke, 29, actress, Manchester, England, 1993.

28 – John Legend, 44, singer, born John Stephens, Springfield, OH, 1978.

29 – Iain De Caestecker, 35, actor (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Glasgow, Scotland, 1987.

30 – V, 27, singer (BTS), born Kim Tae-hyung, Daegu, South Korea, 1995.

31 – Tim Matheson, 74, actor (Bonanza), Los Angeles, CA, 1948.

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How to become an early childhood educator

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If you love working with children and want to contribute to your community, consider becoming an early childhood educator. High school graduates, retirees returning to the workforce, and anyone seeking a new profession may want to pursue this career path. After all, these experts are in demand.

A skilled professional
Early childhood educators are often misunderstood. They’re not babysitters; they’re hard-working, qualified individuals who are responsible for the following:

• Creating educational programs to promote children’s development
• Assessing the abilities, interests, and needs of toddlers
• Preparing various documents, including evaluation reports
• Helping children develop good habits

There are a number of university and college programs you can take to acquire the skills you need to pursue this profession. In some cases, scholar¬ships and work-study programs may be available.


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6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
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Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
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10th Virginia Infantry Encampment @ Sky Meadows State Park
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10th Virginia Infantry Encampment @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area Journey back in time and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of a Civil War Encampment during the holidays. Interact with the 10th VA Infantry, also known as the Valley Guards,[...]
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6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
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Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
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The Nutcracker 2022 @ Skyline High School
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The Nutcracker 2022 @ Skyline High School
Italia Performing Arts is pleased to announce its own student production of the seasonal ballet The Nutcracker, to be presented in Front Royal, VA, on Saturday December 17th 2022. Tickets: $35 and $25 Under 16:[...]
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Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
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6:30 pm Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
Front Royal Wednesday Night Bingo @ Front Royal Volunteer Fire Deptartment
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Bingo to support the American Cancer Society mission, organized by Relay For Life of Front Royal. Every Wednesday evening Early Bird Bingo at 6:30 p.m. Regular Bingo from 7-9:30 p.m. Food and refreshments available More[...]
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First Day Hikes at Sky Meadows @ Sky Meadows State Park
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First Day Hikes at Sky Meadows @ Sky Meadows State Park
Historic Area. While the American tradition of celebrating the New Year occurs at midnight on New Year’s Eve, other cultures celebrate by enjoying the sunrise on New Year’s Day. As part of the continuing American[...]