By Diane Van Dyke
Using brooms, rakes and shovels, more than 40 people volunteered their time and muscles on Sat., June 17 to help clean up Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site in Elverson.
Hopewell Superintendent Edie Shean-Hammond said she sought every available volunteer to help prepare the historic buildings and property for the August 5 dedication of the restored waterwheel.
Created in 1938, this national park preserves a slice of America's iron-making history, which started with ironmaster Mark Bird in 1771. During the 1800s, Hopewell Village was a thriving community with a charcoal-fired furnace at the center of its livelihood.
Since its inception, the park has been the scene for re-enactments and demonstrations, including charcoal-making and iron-casting.
Most recently, the park has commissioned Stan Graton II of Holderness, N.H., to reconstruct the waterwheel that once powered the bellows used to feed air into the ever-burning furnace. Shean-Hammond is planning a ceremony for Aug. 5, commemorating the installation of the refurbished waterwheel.
Volunteers on Saturday shoveled dirt and scrubbed the walls of the cast house with brooms and brushes. A major rainstorm in October 2005 flooded the cast and spring houses with more than two feet of water, leaving the walls coated with mud and floors filled with debris.
With the antiquated drainage system and low-lying buildings, Shean-Hammond said a study is underway to mitigate "constant flooding."
Park staff assigned another crew of volunteers to the vegetation clearance task. Outside of the cast house, near the waterwheel, is large weed-covered hill formed from slag, a byproduct of the iron-making process.
Shean-Hammond envisions that the cleared area will make a natural amphitheatre for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and other events at the park.
Among Saturday's volunteers were six high school students - Katie Lambert, Ohio; Sophia Weinmann, Ohio; Paul Oh, Georgia; Marcus Dean, Washington D.C.; Matthew Llarena, Florida; and Jessica Sutter, Florida. They have volunteered to work and live at the park as part of the national Student Conservation Association (SCA), a program started in 1957 in which young people work on conservation projects in national parks.
Under the direction of college student Courtney Murphy and Sean Hill, who recently completed his master's degree at Portland State University, the SCA members assist with maintenance projects at the 848-acre park for four weeks. Then, another group of students will rotate through the program.
On June 17, SCA members cleared debris and mud from the wooden race to allow water to flow freely to the waterwheel.
At the end of their day of labor in the hot June sun, the volunteers gathered for a Hopewell-style barbecue.
"We rely on volunteers for events and all of the work that needs to be done here," Shean-Hammond said, explaining that the park maintenance staff is comprised of one part-time and two full-time employees. "We appreciate everything they do."
Fellow park employee Jeffrey Collins echoed the sentiment: "The park lives because of the work of the volunteers."
Contact assistant editor Diane Van Dyke at 610-367-6041, ext. 228 or