John Ballendine established the Occoquan Iron Works in 1755, about ½ mile above the Town of Occoquan on the Occoquan River. The forge for the iron works sat on property east of the Mill House Museum. An aerial view of a section of the Occoquan River shows the approximate location of the iron furnace, the Mill House Museum, and the iron forge.
The iron ingot on display in the Mill House Museum is stamped with the name Occoquan and would have been produced at the Occoquan Iron Works between 1755 and 1775, when the iron works closed.
Mr. and Mrs. Clarence G. Blaisdell unearthed the ingot during construction of their new home in Falmouth, Virginia, and presented it to the Mill House Museum on November 26, 1974. Our Occoquan ingot is thus well over 225 years old.
Ballendine’s iron furnace and his products were in high demand. On April 18, 1758, George Washington wrote to Ballendine asking for iron bars in the amount of two tons of 1” square and one ton of 3” broad and ½“ thick; he pleaded with Ballendine to send the iron immediately, noting that two earlier requests had been ignored. Should he fill the order without delay, Washington says that he will continue to do business with Ballendine. At the time, Washington was constructing Fort Loudoun at Winchester for the protection of the Shenandoah Valley, and sorely needed the iron.
Iron ingots like the one pictured above were referred to as pig iron. Molten iron from the furnace would flow into molds made in the sand. These molds had a central furrow and arms at right angles into which the molten iron flowed. It was said to resemble suckling pigs, hence the name pig iron. When cooled the iron pigs would be broken off of the center mold and used for future casting.