Historical Marker #1395 in Newport commemorates the Licking Furnace, which operated for more than twenty five years.
Largely driven by the production demands of the Industrial Revolution, the mid-nineteenth century witnessed a boom in the iron industry in North America. After the 1830s, furnaces sprang up across the country. Kentucky was an ideal location for iron production as it had rich ore deposits, a plentiful supply of timber, and abundant streams. The Licking Furnace was built in the Newport area in 1859 by Swift's Iron and Steel Works. The facility produced approximately 17,000 tons of iron each year.
During this era, iron was in high demand as it was used to build railroads and for parts in steam engines in all types of factories. As the need for iron increased, Kentucky furnaces struggled to keep up with the demand. Ultimately the small furnaces could not keep pace with the corporate companies located in other states. An additional burden was the fact that the state quickly exhausted many of its natural resources, including timber and ore deposits.
The financial Panic of 1873 was an additional contributing factor to the downfall of many Kentucky furnaces. With this economic disturbance, the once booming railroad industry took a hit, which, in turn, affected iron production throughout the United States. The Licking Furnace outlived several other local furnaces but eventually shut down in 1888, when it could no longer keep up with production costs.