ROBESON TOWNSHIP — Taking a step back in time, a 9-year-old Shillington boy was mystified watching iron being heated in a 1,400-degree Fahrenheit furnace.

“What is this black stuff?” Zachary Horning inquired as a crew melted iron in the restored 1791 Joanna Furnace at the 43rd annual Hay Creek Festival in Robeson Township.

“It looks like coal,” the boy said.

“Iron is being melted to put in a mold,” a worker responded during the reenactment.

“My son loves learning and making things with his hands,” Zachary's mother, Emily, said as she and her husband, Ben, watched the iron ore being heated. “I've been going to this festival since I was a child. You just fall in love with the history.”

The bright, shining sun was the backdrop for the festival, where more than 1,000 visitors from near and far took in a history lesson.

Five years of planning culminated over the weekend when a restored iron furnace on the grounds of the historic Joanna Furnace was unveiled.

The interior of the furnace, known as the bosh, was restored to its original form thanks to a $160,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Berks County Community Foundation, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

“Joanna Furnace is extraordinarily fortunate to have one of the last remaining boshes in the eastern United States,” said Mark Zerr, executive director of the Hay Creek Historical Association.

The restoration was done by International Chimney Corp., based in Buffalo, N.Y.

The three-day festival also featured crafters displaying and selling redware pottery, doll clothes, soaps, jewelry, woodcrafts and antiques.

Charles Jacob, a member of the Hay Creek Valley Historical Association, said the association formed a nonprofit shortly after the bicentennial to promote Pennsylvania's rich iron ore heritage.

In 1979, Bethlehem Steel donated the 26-acre property, originally used to make cannons for the war of 1812, to the association

Cathy Spohn of Wernersville, an archeologist, said the nonprofit cleared the brush that covered the original furnace that was operating in 1791 to 1898.

Several students of Pathways, a home-school co-op in Brecknock Township, Lancaster County, were among the volunteers running the iron ore furnace.

The students worked closely with John Wood, a retired shop teacher, to mold stars and iron plates to sell as souvenirs of the event.

After watching a demonstration for about 20 minutes, Zachary Horning was ready to move on to his next activity, selling smoothies with his Cub Scout Troop 543, Plowville.

The Horning family walked over to the smoothie stand, where they were greeted by Fred Lutz, 67, Zachary's grandfather, and Emily's father.

“This is the best day ever,” Lutz said, as the three generations gathered together for a fun-filled afternoon.

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