Antebellum Ironworks, 4a


Appalachian Blacksmiths Association

 additional material: September 27 & Occtober 16, 2007.

The Antebellum Iron Industry In 
Western Virginia; Col. Nemegyei and the Irondale Furnace


By Dave Allen, Editor

In part 4 of the series Antebellum Iron Industry in Western Virginia, Count Felix DeNemegyei is introduced as the successor owner of George Hardman’s iron furnace (built ca. 1859) near Independence in Preston County. Hardman named his works “The Hardman Furnace.” The Franklin Iron and Coal Company took over the operation in 1865 and renamed it “Franklin Furnace.” The community also became known as Franklin. Mr. Hardman again operated the iron works from 1866 until he sold it to Count DeNemegyei.

According to new information from area resident Mr. Lew McDaniel, the furnace was located on Three Forks Creek at the community also called Victoria. The ruins of the ironworks were razed in the 1980’s but Mr. McDaniel had visited them prior to that.

Count DeNemegyei was thought by some to be a Polish or Austrian nobleman. When he emigrated to the United States about 1850, central Europe was the domain of the Austrian Empire which consisted of Austria, Hungary, and parts of present-day Poland as well as all or parts of 10 other modern nations. Nemegyei’s obituary lists his birth in Hungary (January 26, 1825) and he died Jan. 24, 1904 in Charlestown, WV. He is buried in Historic Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.

austria-hungary in 1848

Map of Austria-Hungary in 1848.  

Click to enlarge

In 1848, Europe was ablaze in revolution. Every European nation except England and Russia experienced an internal uprising and Austria was no different as the Kingdom of Hungary sought more autonomy in the empire’s rule. 

According to historian S. T. Wiley, Count DeNemegyei was Colonel of engineers in the Hungarian Army during the 1848 revolution. When Hungarian forces surrendered in 1849, Colonel Nemegyei fled to Turkey, and from Turkey, he emigrated to New Orleans. 

At some point thereafter, Col. Nemegyei was hired by the Tehuantepec Railroad Company of New Orleans. Wiley notes that Nemegyei was chief engineer for the railroad company but the book, "The Isthmus of Tehuantepec", published in 1852 by the railroad company lists Major John G. Barnard as chief engineer and John J. Williams as his assistant. "The Isthmus of Tehuantepec" is a rare book, but it is now available for reading on Google Book Search.  Col. Nemegyei’s name or role in building the railroad, however, does not appear in the book.  

The firm began building a railroad across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec--that narrowest part of Mexico just above the Yucatan Peninsula. The railroad connected the Atlantic to the Pacific and hauled shipborne cargoes between harbors on each coast of the country. Long before the Panama Canal was started, shipping companies had sought a way to avoid sailing around Cape Horn. The Tehuantepec railroad was built for this reason.

It is unknown as to how long Col. Nemegyei stayed in Mexico but he is listed in the 1869 National Register as the United States Consul in Tabasco, Mexico. He also exported mahogany wood for about 20 years. He eventually traveled to New York City and while in the "commissions business", he bought Hardman's iron furnace in Preston County in 1877. 

George Hardman was an industrious man. He also built a furnace at Gladesville (Preston Co.) in 1869 in addition to the Clinton Furnace near Morgantown. But all of his ventures eventually failed because he lacked operating capital. By being in the "commissions business", that probably means that Col. Nemegyei was a broker trying to sell the Hardman Furnace at Victoria. We can probably assume that Nemegyei looked the operation over and thought well enough of it to buy it himself. The ironworks did have ample reserves of iron ore, limestone, and coal.

Once he bought the Hardman Furnace, Col. Nemegyei began making repairs and changed the name of the furnace and the town to Irondale. On April 15, 1878, the Irondale Furnace began production making 10 tons of pig iron during each 24-hour shift. 


irondale furnace 1878

Irondale Furnace in 1878 after remodeling by Col. Felix Nemegyei.
Photo submitted by Mr. Lew McDaniel.


The superintendent of the works was a Hungarian émigré named Alexander Strausz.(4)  Strausz had been a lieutenant in the Hungarian Army during the 1848 revolt but it is not known if he knew Col. Nemegyei at that time. Strausz was captured at the end of the war but escaped to Russia and he was exiled from there in 1850. 

He went to Boston and was hired as an architect for the U. S. Coast Survey. During the Civil War, he was a cartographer and hydrographer on Union Admiral David Porter's staff during the siege of Vicksburg. Strausz' role in mapping the Confederate defenses of Vicksburg played an important role in the battle and is documented in Civil War histories. Prior to becoming general manager of the Irondale Furnace, he was engaged in the manufacture of railroad cars in North Carolina.

irondale wv furnace ca 1878

This photo of the Irondale Furnace was submitted by Lew McDaniel of Independence, WV.  The original is in possession of a descendent of one of the workmen in the photo.

click photo to enlarge

In the fall of 1878, extensive renovations were made and production increased to 30 tons per day. The new furnace was 62' tall with a 14' bosh. The blast was powered by a 150 HP steam engine. Fuel for the furnace was made nearby in 25-30 brick-lined coke ovens. The furnace ran up to 1881 when it was shut down by a labor strike from June to October. When S. T. Wiley published "The History of Preston County" in 1882, the Irondale Furnace was still in operation.

Lew McDaniel has posted a copy of an Irondale photo taken in 1878 at his blogsite. The photo of the works at a distance is very small and does not enlarge clearly. However, the ironworks are running and a steam locomotive appears in the frame. The photo is identified with Nemegyei’s name and date which are written on it with white ink.

In part 4 of this series, Moreland's information about the "Monacea Spring Water" (1) operation appears. "Preston County History" (1979) reports that it was Col. Nemegyei who started the waterworks and built a bottling plant at Irondale. Locally available glass sand was used to manufacture the gallon-sized bottles. The bottles were packed 6 to a case and 590 cases filled a rail car. The spring water, which had mineral properties for good health according to a local doctor named Bomberger, sold for $5 per case and was shipped to New York City and other places.

Col. Nemegyei built Three Forks Railroad, a rail spur along Three Forks Creek to nearby Hardman and the junction with the Baltimore & Ohio RR main line. He used two small steam engines, the "Bismark" and the "Rogers", to transport raw material and finished goods. 


the bismark--one of irodale's steam-powered engines

The Bismark--one of Irondale's steam-powered engines

Re-printed from Preston County History, 1979


At the peak of its operations, Irondale employed 300 men in its various enterprises. At some point after 1882, another strike shut down the ironworks and Col. Nemegyei closed the plant for good.(2), (3)  Competition from larger blast furnaces located near major markets probably made Irondale uneconomical to operate. 

Information from the West Virginia Office of Miners' Health Safety and Training website indicates that coal was mined at Irondale from 1884 through 1892. As to whether this coal was mined to make coke for the furnace or sold on the open market isn't indicated.

James Moreland relates: “On April 21st, 1936, the Honorable P. J. Crogan told me that he remembered Count Nemegyei very well, that as a boy, Mr. Crogan had visited Independence with John Numei who was a clerk or secretary to the Count. That he always understood that the Count was an Austrian. That the Count was very tall, well over 6 feet in height, very soldierly in bearing, very dark in complexion, well-educated, a good linguist, but had trouble with the English language, speaking with a pronounced foreign accent.”

Col. Nemegyei lived at the Gordon Inn in Kingwood, the county seat, when Irondale was operating. His daughter, Adele, married Henri de Billier, a Frenchman, who was associated in business with the Colonel. He also had a son, Bela, who was “dissipated” according to Moreland. Both children survived their father when he died in 1904.

Mr. Crogan, an attorney, wrote to Moreland that Adele received ownership in the Irondale property after litigation in federal court in Parkersburg (date not given but prior to 1904) and that she married an attorney named Head sometime after Henri de Billier died. They apparently lived in Washington.

man a cea spring water ad

Copy of an advertisement in Therapeutic Monthly magazine for Man-A-Cea water.  Date unknown

(click to enlarge)

Adele did lease the coal at Irondale to Manufacturers Coal and Coke Company (1904-1909) but the company was not successful. She also sold 30 acres of land and the spring water operation to Mr. Den Curtis who operated it as Monacea Springs Water Company. (1)

Col. Nemegyei and various investors incorporated the Iron Valley and Morgantown Railroad Company in 1881. This was the “Black Bottle” railroad. Grading for the road bed began in 1887 under the direction of the West Virginia Railroad Co. The line would have run from Hardman’s switch on the main line of the B&O railroad to Irondale and then to Independence, Reedsville, Masontown, and then along Decker’s Creek to Morgantown. Unfortunately, the rail company was unable to sell enough bonds to finance construction and went bankrupt in 1888. 

One of the original Iron Valley investors, George Sturgiss of Morgantown, bought the right-of-way in 1899 and completed the road along Decker’s Creek to the Preston County line by 1902. Industrialist Stephen Elkins took over the railway from there and extended it to Kingwood.

When Hardman began the first iron furnace at Victoria in 1859, someone decided to build an inn to lodge visitors. Lew McDaniel relates this story about the building of the Victoria Inn:

“Victoria at that time had the Victoria Inn, which sat across the road from the furnace. The foundation, which is still there, was laid by slaves belonging to a fellow from Arthurdale. He brought them to the construction site and left them to do their work.

“When the work was done, he returned to collect payment and take them to the next job. On his way, he was robbed and killed. Fearing such an event, he had buried the payroll along the road before being set upon. 

“This story was told to me in the 1970's by a gentleman who was in his mid-90s then. He had been told the tale by his grandmother with whom he lived in the Victoria area along the route the slave owner would have traveled. He told me that he never turned over a spade of dirt that he did not think he would find the gold.”


Colonel Felix Nemegyei must have been an interesting fellow, to say the least.


Cemetery record:

DeNemegyei, Felix:  b. 26 Jan 1825 - d. 24 Jan 1904 78 yrs. R54/19

DeNemegyei. Entered into rest, Sunday, January 24, 1904 at Charlestown, W. Va., Felix DeNemegyei, born in Hungary, January 26, 1825. Interment private.

Col. Nemegyei Dead
  Col. Felix De Nemegyei, a native of Hungary, whose wife, formerly Miss Young, is a native of this city, died Sunday at Charlestown, W. Va., aged 79 years. Deceased had been a resident of Charlestown since last October. A son and daughter and their mother survive him.
The (Winchester, VA) Evening Star, January 26, 1904, p. 16

Source:  Historic Congressional Cemetery records.



Note to readers:  Do not confuse the Irondale plant with the nearby Waldorf plant at Irontown in Taylor county.  Waldorf Furnace, Irontown, Taylor county. One stack, built in 1873; dismantled in 1889, and machinery removed to Lawrence Furnace, Culbertson, Lawrence county, Ohio.


End Notes:

  1. Moreland refers to the spring water as "Monacea".  However, archival pictures of a bottle label and a magazine ad show that the water was sold as "MAN-A-CEA" spring water at some point in time.

  2.  Journal of the House of Representatives, page 500.  Feb. 5, 1887
    By Mr. Wilson: Petition of F. Nemegyei and 101 others, proprietors and employees of Irondale Furnace and mines, Taylor County, WV, for repeal of internal revenue taxes; referred to Committee on Ways and Means.

  3. From the AISA/AISI directory, 1892:
    " Irondale Furnace, F. Nemegyei, Independence, Preston county. Telegraph address, Newburg. New York office, 60 New St., care De Billier & Co. One stack, 60 x 13J, built in 1861, and rebuilt in 1886; Gordon-Whitwell-Cowper stoves; fuel, coke, manufactured from coal mined on the property; ores, a mixture of \ limonite and J hematite, also obtained on the property; product, slightly cold-short pig iron; annual capacity, 18,000 net tons. Brand, " F. N." For sale."

  4. From the AISA/AISI directory, 1888:
    "Irondale Furnace, F. Nemegyei, Raccoon, Preston county. New York office, 99 Water St. One stack, 62 x 13, built in 1861, and rebuilt in 1878-9; fuel, coke, manufactured from coal mined on the property; ores, a mixture of half and half limonite and hematite, also obtained on the property ; product, slightly cold-short pig iron ; annual capacity, 10,000 net tons. Brand, " F. N." Alex. Strausz, General Manager.


Sources for “Col. Nemegyei and the Irondale Furnace”

“National Register, 1869.; A General View of the United States.” Volume 1, Part 2, p.88. Edited by David N. Camp. O. D. Case & Co., Hartford, CT. 
From website:

Moreland, James R., “The Early Cheat Mountain Ironworks.” 1940. Monongalia Historical 
Society, Morgantown, WV.

Wiley, S. T., “History of Preston County (WV).” Pages 358-9 and 496-99. Journal Printing House, Kingwood, WV. 1882.

“Preston County History.” 1979. Preston County Historical Society, Kingwood, WV.

“Dominion News”, Sept. 25, 1963. Buckwheat Festival supplement, page 14. Morgantown, WV

WV Office of Miners’ Health Safety & Training website: 

Robertson, Priscilla Smith, “Revolutions of 1848: A Social History.” Princeton University Press. 1952.

Historic Congressional Cemetery records.

Alexander Strausz at Vicksburg:

Wikipedia:    Article about Alexander Strausz

Csaba Györgyi, Hungarian teacher of History and Theology. (09-2007):
"I have found Felix Nemegyei in Hungary: he was a lieutenant-colonel at our great Independent Revolution and War (1848-1849.). After losing this war, he had to escape from the sanctions. At first he went to Turkey; after that, in the early 1860s, he traveled to Mexico, maybe across the States.  Felix is a Latin word and means happy. This name has a Hungarian synonym: Bódog.  So this man's Hungarian name was: Nemegyei Bódog (we use family name first)."

McDaniel, Lew. Independence, WV. Correspondence, 2006. 

"The Isthmus of Tehuantepec", by Major John G. Barnard and John J. Williams, 1852.  Available on Google Book Search.

"Directory of Iron and Steel Works of the United States and Canada", by American Iron and Steel Association, American Iron and Steel Institute, 1888 & 1892 editions.

A special “Thanks” to John Cuthbert, Curator of the WV and Regional Collection at West Virginia University for his research efforts on this article.



Up ] Antebellum Iron Works; Part One ] Antebellum Iron Works; Part Two ] Antebellum Ironworks, Part Three ] Antebellum Ironworks; Part Four ] [ Antebellum Ironworks; Part Four A ] Antebellum Ironworks; Part Five ] Antebellum Iron Works; Part Six ]

David G. Allen © 2004, 2007



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