ROBESON TOWNSHIP — After years of research, reconstruction of the Joanna Furnace wheelwright's shop is underway.

"This project is based on 15 years of archeology work," said Mark Zerr, executive director of the Hay Creek Valley Historical Association, which owns the 18th and 19th century furnace and iron-making community in Robeson Township.

Exhaustive excavations by the organization's team of volunteer archeologists uncovered the original 17-by-24-square-foot stone foundation of the mortise-and-tenon frame structure.

An early 20th century photograph reveals the building's roof pitch and shows the shop was finished with a board-and-batten siding, similar to that of furnace's blacksmith shop. But reconstruction will rely heavily on the archeology since only part of the building is visible in the photograph.

The team made critical discoveries, Zerr said, including evidence of the foundation size, window placement, door size and roof material.

"Over the years there were three roofs, two of beaver-tail tile and a final one of slate," he said.

Researchers don't know exactly when the wheelwright's shop was built. But based on documentary and archeological evidence, they suspect it was shortly after the furnace opened in 1791.

The building stood until the late 1940s.

“It was the wheelwright's responsibility to keep the company's wagons on the road," Zerr said. "His job was to construct wheels, spokes, hubs and even the wagons that would haul the charcoal, iron ore and limestone to the site and ultimately transport the finished iron products to market.”

Like other iron plantations of the 18th and 19th centuries, Joanna Furnace was a nearly self-contained community with a general store, blacksmith shop, wheelwright's shop, workers cottages and iron master's mansion, he said. All the structures were vital to each other and the site, for example, the blacksmith fitted the metal rims on the finished wooden wheels.

"It is really exciting for our organization to be adding another building to our site," Zerr said.

Much of the estimated $115,000 reconstruction cost was underwritten by anonymous donors in memory of generations of wheelwright ancestors. But donations toward the project are being accepted.

Zerr said Hay Creek hopes to complete construction in time for the organization's Christmas event.

"The public is welcome to view progress at the upcoming Apple Festival," he said.

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