Bourbon Iron Works

Historical Marker #993 in Bath County notes the history of the Bourbon Iron Works, which was built by Jacob Myers in 1791.

Myers moved from Virginia to what would become Kentucky in the early 1780s. Upon his arrival, he purchased thousands of acres of land around Slate Creek. A decade later, a furnace was constructed on the property and sold to John Cockey Owings and a group of businessmen. The furnace was officially established as the Bourbon Iron Works under the John Cockey Owings Company.

As early America expanded westward beyond the Appalachian Mountains, Kentucky's rolling fertile hills and abundant streams appealed to settlers looking to claim land of their own. Many of the first pioneers were forced to leave behind more cumbersome and heavy belongings during their journey west. Once the settlers arrived on their claims, homesteading required items such as kettles, plowshares, and numerous other iron products. Fortunately, rich iron ore deposits were discovered in parts of Kentucky, which brought a measure of industry that was previously lacking. Industrialist entrepreneurs like John Owings took note of the rich resources required for iron establishments. Natural resources, combined with a ready commercial outlet market supplied by newly arriving pioneers, prompted men like Owings to set up iron furnaces in places like Bath County.

Despite the risk of attacks by Native Americans and a constant shortage of labor, the furnace at Bourbon Iron Works was finally constructed. Working the furnace, however, remained a dangerous, labor-intensive job. The John Cockey Owings Company used slave labor from its beginning. Many of the enslaved workers provided the unskilled muscle required with iron work. However, skilled slave laborers also filled necessary positions like puddlers and molders.

The Bourbon Iron Works was an immediate success. The firm shipped goods as far as Lexington by 1794. Iron became even more of a commodity during the War of 1812, when Americans boycotted British goods. Bourbon Iron Works also became famous during that conflict when General Andrew Jackson, anticipating an attack from the British on New Orleans, purchased shipments of cannonballs from the Kentucky furnace. The supplies were loaded on barges and shipped down the Mississippi River. The shipment proved imperative to Jackson's victory at the Battle of New Orleans. Because of this, the Bourbon furnace was dubbed the "Old Thunder Mill" until it was decommissioned in 1838.