Martha Furnace, NJ Pine Barrens

Bass River Twp, Wharton State Forest


Martha Furnace was founded in 1793 by Isaac Potts; had 40 to 50 structures and a population of 400 in its heyday.

The history of Martha Furnace (1793-1845), located on the lower Oswego about two miles north from Rt. 679, on the east side of Harrisville Lake, nearly opposite the old Harrisville paper mill ruins. In 1741 a sawmill, known as the Oswego Sawmill, was established here.

In 1793 Isaac Pott's new bog-iron furnace went into blast at this same location. Isaac named the furnace for his wife, Martha. Martha Furnace was built in 1793 a few miles southeast of Jenkins. Only a large earth-covered mound remains where once stood a high double-walled pyramid of bricks. The spillway runs back to a broken dam on the Oswego River at Martha pond. In the town there were about 50 houses. The men of Martha would vote at one of the popular jug taverns of the Pine Barrens, Bodine's Tavern, a few miles south of the town on the Wading River (where the Tuckerton Road crossed the river). The only reminders of the town are some catalpa trees planted by the townsfolk. (McPhee 1968:30&33)

John Bodine established a tavern shortly after the Revolution on the easterly end of Wading River Bridge. It was the last stop of the stages going from Philadelphia to Tuckerton. The tavern was visited a great deal by the iron workers of the period from 1808 to 1815. The tavern was kept by the Bodines until the late 1830s. (Boyer 1962:81-83)

In 1800 Potts sold the area to four men, who formed the Martha Furnace Company. The company's interests were run by the Quaker Jesse Evans, Washington Township's most distinguished citizen. Not much remains of the buildings, but a lot is known about Martha Furnace thanks to its clerk, Caleb Earle, who kept a journal from 1808 to 1815. Most of the workers were Irish. The chief entertainment was fishing, hunting, and getting drunk. The workers would get the liquor at Bodine's Tavern (the Washington Tavern of Nicholas Sooy) or at Boots (said to have been on the road from Martha to Chatsworth where it crossed Bucks Run). (Pierce 1957:88-89)

In 1808 the furnace came into the ownership of Joseph Ball and Samuel Richards. They had a work force of 60 with about 50 dwellings for 400 persons. They shipped the pig iron downstream to the Wading River Forge and Slitting Mill. (Boyd 1991)

After 1808 most of the iron products were shipped via "the landing" which was not far from Bodine's Tavern (about 3 miles away from the furnace).

Isaac Potts had a forge and slitting mill on the Wading River near the site of Harrisville. The Wading River Forge had used pig iron from nearby Martha Furnace, which Potts also owned. In 1832 William McCarty bought the forge and slitting mill. He developed a paper mill. In 1851 William D. And Richard C. Harris bought the property and renamed it Harrisville. The papermaking operation declined when the Raritan and Delaware Railroad (later the New Jersey Central) built the line to Harrisville, 8 miles to the west of the plant. (Stinton 1987:103-104). Each worker got a rent-free house, a garden and free ice. The workday was from 6 to 6. Still around are the ruins of the great paper factory (crumbling arched stone wall three feet thick). (McPhee 1968:39)

The site of Martha Furnace was purchased by Joseph Wharton in 1896.

On a trip with the Philadelphia Botanical Club, at and around the site of the mansion in Martha, the group found an adder's tongue fern and Loesel's twayblade orchid. Other plants found on the trip was the foxtail moss, thread-leaved sundew, ebony spleenwort, Calopogon pulchellus, cinnamon fern, marsh fern, royal fern, Indian shoestrings, Turk's cap lily, spreading pogonias, swamp azalea, swamp hyacinth, wild magnolia, cassandaras, prickly pear cactus, and candy root. (McPhee 1968:127-132)