History has been a hot topic in Cuba lately—specifically the city’s historic preservation ordinance, which will likely be repealed and replaced. It should get everyone thinking about preserving our history, especially the Missouri Department of Conservation.
Crawford County has 13 places on the National Register of Historic Places (Phelps County has 11) and two of those are in terrible shape. One, well-known to most area residents, is the Snelson-Brinker House that was destroyed by fire in 2017. The other is the Scotia Iron Furnace, virtually unknown to most people.
Think mini Maramec Iron Furnace (also on the National Register) if you want to picture the Scotia Iron Furnace in your mind. The now-crumbling structure was originally built in about 1870 by the Scotia Iron Works and was 35-feet wide at its base and about 40-feet tall, constructed out of native limestone. It was the first historic structure in Crawford County to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969.
The Scotia Iron Furnace isn’t hard to get to, but tourists rarely see it and most local residents have never visited it. The furnace is located in the Huzzah Conservation Area, which belongs to the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).
To get to it, you can take Highway 8 east of Steelville to Route E and then travel to the end of the blacktop and cross the Huzzah Creek into the conservation area on Cave Road. Go until you pass the MDC shooting range and the road makes a sharp left turn. Park on the right side of the turn and head up the valley along a small stream, following the black slag from the furnace, and you’ll find the furnace, or what’s left of it. The GPS coordinates are: 38°02′15″N 91°11′47″W.
You can also get there using Route H out of Leasburg, crossing the Meramec River onto Cave Road. After passing through a four-way intersection with Scotia Ranch Road, go down a hill and then onto a flat section until the road makes a sharp right. The trail to the furnace will be on the left side of the road.
You won’t find any signs directing you to the Scotia Iron Furnace. And if you find it, you won’t find any historical information at the site, which is now fenced off from the public. While the MDC owns the site, it has done nothing with it—no preservation, no maintenance—nothing!
Years ago (when I was much younger), you could still get to the furnace, although it was already deteriorating. One side had collapsed and you could actually scramble up the limestone blocks and look inside the old iron furnace, which was lined with fire brick.
There are also other historic structures on the site, including a limestone lined pit, rock walls, and a nearby iron mine, much like the one at Maramec Spring Park. None of it is being preserved.
It’s somewhat understandable that MDC wouldn’t work to preserve or repair the Scotia Iron Furnace. History is not the MDC’s mission. That being the case, why doesn’t the MDC move to turn the site over to another entity, perhaps the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR)? The DNR already oversees many of Missouri’s historic sites, including Dillard Mill in southern Crawford County. Plus, the DNR operates Onondaga Cave State Park, which is just a few miles from the furnace and could easily be incorporated into the park.
The Scotia Iron Furnace should be saved. It has a rich history, not only because it is 150 years old this year, but also because it was the first place put on the National Register of Historic Places in Crawford County. It should be restored and improved, and the state of Missouri should take the lead on the project.
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