ARMCO and Factories History submitted by Joe Greene



Ashland was home to ARMCO Steel (now under a new name).  ARMCO had at least four blast furnaces making pig iron in the area.  Norton Furnace and the Sixth Street Furnace were constructed (as 'modern' facilities)  probably beginning as early as the 1920s. 

My father Willis Bertram Greene (b. in Magoffin Co.) worked these furnaces in the 1930s, '40s, 50s, and 60's.   I am not positive but I believe both these furnaces had much older predecessor furnaces.   Norton could be a name of furnace of the 1800s or even late 1700s.  The Sixth Street site has been obliterated by 'progress' but may have been the site of a very old furnace - (named?).  I am not sure of the current state of the Norton site (near 26th street?) - on the Ohio River bank.

The largest blast furnaces that Armco had in the area were the Bellefonte and Amanda Furnaces which sit near the Boyd / Greenup county line.   Bellefonte was the oldest of the two but not as old as the Sixth Street and Norton plants.  Amanda Furnace, which was the largest in the world when built, was built in the late 50' - early 60s.   Amanda is still operating (as of 2001).  I am not sure of the operating status of Bellefonte Furnace.  My father was a foreman operating both these furnaces in the 50's and 60's.  I worked in these plants in 1964/65 and again in 1968/69 after the Vietnam War. 

Bellefonte Furnace was named after a much older furnace site not far away.   The town of Bellefonte in Boyd county has a historical maker noting the history of the furnace.  Amanda may be a name of an older furnace too - not sure. 

ARMCO stood for American Rolling Mills Corp.

There were also many local iron ore pits in the hills in Boyd and Greenup Counties.   As a boy in the 1950s, while exploring the high hills overlooking Russell KY and the Ohio River, I explored many of these pits.   Most were just deep depressions in the ground filled with leaves and saplings.   But it made for great adventure.



As originally written to Connie Spurlock

as posted on - 3-30-2005.


I only know of the history of older furnaces as they relate to the more 'modern' ones along the Ohio River in Boyd and Greenup Counties with which I have direct experience.   The actual history of small furnaces in Eastern and especially North East Kentucky is quite a bit more extensive than I can personally relate.  Small furnaces were created in this area nearly as soon as it was settled in the late 1700s.

I actually can only recall bits and pieces of the rich furnace history as told to me by my Grandfather, Grant Elam (my mother's father).   My Grandfather Elam (originally of Morgan County) also 'worked the Mills'.  He began working at the ARMCO plants in Middletown OH around 1918 and then moved to Ashland to work there in the mid 1920s.   My Uncle Victor Debord, his sons (my first cousins) and many of my other relatives worked for ARMCO at one time or another.   So you see the Furnaces are deep in my family history.

I believe researchers and historians have documented the pig iron furnace history of Eastern Kentucky - but I just do not have an exact reference.   I wouldn't be surprised if a visit to turns up a lead to a more definitive history.   I'll try that and let you know if I find anything directly 'on point'. 

From talking to an old timer from Magoffin County, Mr. Earl Bailey (in 2001/2002) a year or so before he died in his mid nineties, I learned that it was quite common for men of Magoffin and Morgan Counties to move to the Ohio River area and 'work the mills' and for the C&O Railway (now known as CTX).    As often as not Earl told me that the men left their families at home to tend the farm and stayed away working for months at a time in the iron mills along the Ohio sharing a room with other workers (their brothers, uncles, cousins, etc.).

As an aside - iron and steel making in and around Ashland KY and Middletown OH sprung up largely because of the linkage to earlier furnaces in the hills overlooking the Ohio River.   But, the river and the extensive railroads brought it all together.   In the '50s into the '60s and probably many years before, huge river barges brought Minnesota taconite iron ore to the furnaces and the railroads brought in coke (charcoal like substance made from coal to stoke the furnaces and foundries).

The radio station in Ashland - WCMI - 'Where Coal Meets Iron' was quite popular back in the '50s.   The C&O Railroad (CTX)  switching yard in Russell was and still is huge - miles and miles of parallel switching tracks running many miles from Russell down river to Raceland and almost to Worthington.


Using found using the key words - 'Early Iron Furnaces Eastern Kentucky' (found the sites below and dozens of others).

Early Iron Furnaces  . . .