History of Iron Making in the Furnace Village Area (Courtesy Easton Historical Society, 2004)
Easton’s iron heritage began prior to the Revolutionary War in the section of town known as “Furnace Village.” The area received its name from the iron furnaces of the area. The area was important enough to be recorded in the Yale History of America, Industries where southeastern Massachusetts and the furnace at Furnace Village are pointed to as the early center for the colonies. This chronology covers two companies: Belcher Malleable Iron and the Drake Foundry. Both are intertwined in ownership and leadership, yet maintained distinct personalities.
1751 – December 13th – A corporation was founded by John Williams, Daniel Williams, Matthew Hayward, Josiah Keith, Jr., Timothy Williams, Josiah Churchill, Benjamin Williams, Jabez Churchill, and James Godfrey. John and Daniel Williams were to own a quarter part each, Matthew Hayward one-eighth part, and each of the others one-sixteenth part.
1752 – Old Pond was made as result of a dam across Poquanticut Brook, then called Little Brook.
1771 – Foundry was owned by Zephaniah Keith.
1773 – James Perry bought one-fourth ownership in the foundry. Later he purchased the entire works.
1776-1783 – Perry manufactured cannon and cannon balls for Continental Army. Cannons were 2.91 caliber and fired a 3-pound shot. This type of gun was called a “Grasshopper” by Washington’s troops. Guns were proofed north over Old Pond into embankment above pond. Embankment is still present. Cannon balls up to 36 pounds, as well as grapeshot, were also produced at the foundry. Local legend has it that George Washington spent the night at the Benjamin Williams Tavern (presently owned by Edwin White on Bay Road) while negotiating with Perry for equipment.
1778 – Captain James Perry hired soldiers from Norton and Easton out of his own pocket to serve in the Continental Army.
1780 – A forge was built on the west end of the Old Pond dam. It was in addition to the foundry on the east side of the Pond.
1783 – Perry’s furnace was destroyed by fire. (Chaffin records that it was torn down, but Easton Historical Society archives have documents in Perry’s handwriting indicating a fire which totally destroyed the foundry.)
1784 – Town of Easton owed Perry 557 pounds, 13 shillings, 13 pence. Perry went to town meeting to collect this amount. Money was owed for hiring of soldiers and helping to equip army. No records indicate that this sum was ever paid.
1787 – Captain James Perry was arrested for alleged implication in “Shays’ Rebellion,” a farmers’ revolt in western Massachusetts. He was released when town selectmen swore to his character.
1798 – Perry in extreme financial hardship had to mortgage his foundry. The mortgage was subsequently sold by Leonard, Green, and Dean to John Brown of Providence. He willed it to his daughter, Mrs. James Mason.
1804 – Cyrus Alger purchased the business. He was an ironworker and an able businessman. Sheperd Leach bought an interest later in the year.
1808 – The company store was in operation by this time. Workers’ houses on South Street probably were built and the Furnace Village area was set up like a company town. The company store is still standing on the corner of Foundry Street and Poquanticut Avenue. By 1810 it had become a company office. Upstairs contained a counting room with sliding windows to pay workmen. Two massive vaults were built into it.
1808-1810 – Sheperd Leach became sole owner and manager.
1810 – A large reservoir was built west of Old Pond. It was called Carge Reservoir at first; later known as New Pond.
1823 – By this time Leach owned seven furnaces in town. Locations of these have not been researched.
1832 – General Leach died and the foundry was inherited by his brother-in-law, Lincoln Drake, and his sons, Lincoln S. Drake and Abbott L. Drake.
1837 – Alexander Boyden, brother of Seth Boyden who discovered the process for making malleable iron in 1826, started a company with Lincoln Drake at the head. This new company was on the south side of Foundry Street. Up to this time all of the furnaces were north of Foundry Street.
1839 – A. Boyden resigned as superintendent of the new foundry.
1835 – 1846? – Harmony Hall was discontinued as charcoal storage. It was made into a school and was one of the three locations when the high school met in different parts of town. Later it became a Sunday School and contained a library of nearly 500 books.
1847 – Mass. Charitable Mechanic Association awarded a silver medal and diploma to Lincoln Drake for “excellent specimens of malleable iron castings at the exhibit and fair.”
1849 – Daniel Belcher acquired business on south side of Foundry Street. For a few years brass castings were made as well as malleable iron.
1855 – For a short period of time, the Ames family of North Easton purchased an interest in the foundry. This interest lasted only a few years.
1860 – Loose-bricks story concerning Robert Dollard in History of Easton occurred at Belcher Malleable Iron Co. (south side of road)
1872 – Lincoln Drake died. Sons kept the business going at Drake Foundry.
1880 – Fire destroyed most of Belcher Malleable Iron Company. It was rebuilt shortly.
1890’s – Drake Foundry ceased operation. Foundry office was sold to Swifts for store. Company was unable to compete with others who were closer to source of raw materials.
1916 – Belcher Malleable Iron Company incorporated with Belcher, Belcher and Page as incorporators.
1919 – C. Bateman Swasey joined foundry. Later he became an owner.
1919 – February 21st – Fire destroyed main building and pattern house. Only the office and annealing buildings escaped. Cause of the fire was the full furnace of molten iron bursting out and setting fire to coal pile. Damage was estimated at $5,000. Eighteen workmen were employed at the time of the fire. Buildings were rebuilt.
1939 – Frank Tuttle joined the company and diversified Belcher Malleable with his knowledge of new areas.
1950’s – Land was donated to Town of Easton for Fire Station to help with fire protection for Furnace Village. Station #3 was built adjacent to Belcher Malleable on land donated for purpose.
1952 – C. Bateman Swasey died.
1953 – Joseph Abusamra joined company with sales and industrial experience in malleable iron.
1959 – Lee Burgess joined Belcher Malleable Company.
1964 – Town water allowed installation of sprinkler system. Belcher’s was one of first foundries in state to get better fire rating because of record of safety.
1968 – It merged with Dayton Malleable Iron Company. Payroll at time was about $750,000 and 100 persons were employed. Payroll had increased from $150,000 during the 1940’s
1972 – The company started million dollar plus conversion to electric furnaces in order to allow continuous pouring and to halt air pollution.
2004 – Belcher Corporation currently employs approximately 150 people.
2007 – The plant closed.