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Mar 28

The Muirkirk Iron Miners

Posted on March 28, 2018 at 3:40 PM by Bonnie Man

Iron mining was an important industry in central Maryland from the 1600s through the early 1900s. Dinosaur Park is located on the site of one 19th-century iron mine, part of the Muirkirk ironworks complex that operated from 1874 to the 1920s. African American ironworkers dug siderite, or iron ore, out of open pit mines, then melted it down at the nearby furnace, producing pig iron used in construction and manufacturing. These miners were the first to find dinosaur bones and teeth in Maryland, most famously the remains of Astrodon.

An ironworker named Augustus Ross purchased land near the ironworks and constructed a log home in the late 1880s. Other African American ironworkers followed and soon the community of Rossville was formed. There the families of Muirkirk ironworkers built a strong and vibrant community with churches, schools, and social clubs that is still evident today.

Central Maryland iron production slowed and eventually ceased in the early 20th century. The process of melting siderite relied on charcoal, which had become increasingly expensive. At the same time, transportation costs had come down, making imported iron more competitive. When the Muirkirk ironworks closed, many workers began farming full-time, while others got jobs with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company. Meanwhile, the open pit mines remained in use for many decades as a source of clay for brickmaking.  

iron workers
Above: Muirkirk ironworkers, ca. 1920.
Back row: John Weems, unknown, Meschach Conway, William Tolliver, Benjamin Conway, unknown.
Middle Row: William Stewart, Will Franklin, Unknown.
Front Row: Shadrach Conway, Reason Ross.