Falling Creek Ironworks Park
- River access
About Falling Creek Ironworks Park
The Falling Creek Ironworks site is located seven miles south of Richmond, along Falling Creek, adjacent to Route 1. This site is a draw for visitors to the Falling Creek Greenway with its natural resources. The unique features of the falls and the natural scenic beauty of the area attract fisherman, birders, hikers and photographers.
Falling Creek provided abundant water supplies for power of grist mills and early industry; trees for building materials; stones for building and construction; and wildlife for food. This site was an excellent location for the establishment of one of the earliest iron furnace operations in the New World.
The existing vegetation is predominantly second growth hardwood. There is some undergrowth, mostly of herbaceous nature, and woody plants such as alder, along the shoreline. Most of the trees are water tolerant species such as red maple, sycamore and ash. The site, adjacent to Falling Creek, is a fairly flat to gently sloping flood plain. Further back from this low terrace are some moderate to steep side slopes. This site is representative of a typical eastern, bottomland, hardwood forest along the banks of the creek with unique tree and ground cover plants. The environment surrounding this location has abundant biological diversity between soil, flowers, plants and water. This balance within the ecosystem is what brought the first settlers to the area.
Falling Creek Ironworks is open for tours by reservation only.
Falling Creek Ironworks Foundation
In 1991, the Falling Creek Ironworks Foundation was established. The purpose of the foundation is to study of the rich historic and industrial heritage of the Falling Creek area from 1619-1622. Its mission is to preserve, investigate, enhance and interpret the first American Ironworks, the site of the beginning of the iron and steel industry in the New World. The foundation works in a cooperative partnership with Chesterfield County’s Department of Parks and Recreation to manage the site and protect the property. Since 1996, and annual event has been held to commemorate the history of this site.
Chesterfield County acquired Falling Creek Ironworks Park in 1995, along with additional parcels in 2004 and 2013 consisting of 14.6 acres. The Falling Creek greenway was acquired in 1994 and 2000 with an additional 82.9 acres. Falling Creek Ironworks Park is one of the parks within the Chesterfield County parks system and is still under development.
Specific projects and accomplishments that the Falling Creek Ironworks Foundation and Chesterfield County have undertaken include a groundbreaking ceremony in 2012 for planned site improvements, installation of new interpretive signs and a new sign kiosk in 2015, construction of new parking area and clearing of entrance road to north side of creek from Station Road in 2016, installation of new entrance gate, completion of two waysides on the north and south banks of creek, repaving the trail on south side of the creek and installing a park entrance sign at Marina Drive in 2017.
Dendrochronology Results Show Archibald Cary's Forge to be Timber Source
Timbers that washed out of the bank after two early 2007 storms were tested by dendrochronology specialists from Oxford to determine their calendar year dates. Two cut dates were identified in multiple timbers. The first cut set was in the period 1730-1740 corresponding with Archibald Cary's inheritance of the property in 1750. The second cut set was in the period 1760-1770 corresponding with a rebuild that Cary apparently had done at the outbreak of the American Revolution.
Typically, when sawing trees into timbers, the outer sapwood is removed, leaving the desired heartwood. This outer 25± years of growth may be added to the last discernible growth ring to obtain an approximation of the felling date. Archival research was also helpful in arriving at the best fit dates for the felling date of the timbers. By taking multiple samples, the problem of re-used timbers is lessened. One much earlier timber that had been salvaged from elsewhere and used on-site could have given a very much earlier date for the site than it actually was occupied. Site archaeologists had to be the only archaeologists in the country who would be disappointed by getting a middle 18th century date on such magnificent timbers. They had hoped that the timbers were from the earlier Virginia Company Period.
Timbers Exposed by 2004 Floods
Timbers on the south bank of Falling Creek were exposed in 2004 after two heavy rainstorms flooded the Falling Creek area. Chesterfield County employee Ralph Lovern discovered the timbers and notified the archaeologists. At the time, archaeologists theorized that, due to the massive size of the timbers, that they may be from the 1619-1622 venture. However, dendrochronology done on the timbers later showed them to be from the time of Archibald Cary’s forge in 1750.
Moore's Brick Cottage
This establishment was an example of the earlier automobile camps that were prevalent along Route 1 due to the popularity of the automobile. Shortly after Route 1 was paved in the 1920’s, this was the main highway running from Maine to Florida which led to increased traffic throughout the country.
Moore’s lake cottages became a popular retreat for travelers and flourished during the early to mid-20th century. These cottages constructed in 1929 were either 1-, 2- or 3-room units with single beds. Some of the units were modernized with bathroom additions. Many of the cottages were scattered randomly for rustic effect and nearly 40 in total were built. The charm to these cottages was the fact there was a popular lake on the property with a sandy beach and water slides that was a favorite for the locals along with a dance hall. Eventually a restaurant was added to the property to provide meals to visitors.
Moore’s brick cottages thrived until construction of I-95 took visitors away from Jefferson Davis Highway. With larger hotels and motels along the interstate to serve travelers, the small motor courts began to experience a decline and eventually went out of business. Many of the buildings drifted into disrepair and eventually the vacation spot was no longer used.
The history associated with Falling Creek Park spans over 400 years. From the 17th to the early 20th century it has been well documented that numerous industries once existed along the banks of Falling Creek. The earliest industry at this location was the site of the first iron furnace in the New World. Iron ore was extracted in the area as early as 1608. The Virginia Company of London in 1619 established the first iron furnace and smelting works. The ironworks that would be established was the first in the Western Hemisphere to produce cast iron. This operation combined a blast furnace and refinery forge.
Falling Creek has two distinct, but related, industries superimposed upon one another. One was the 1619-1622 first iron blast furnace in the New World, heralding the great industrial might of what became the United States. The other is a 1750-1781 iron forge, begun by a wealthy industrial entrepreneur, and continued as part of the manufacturing base in the fight for American independence in the Revolutionary War. Both were ended by wartime events. Both water powered industries at Falling Creek were lost from view only to re-emerge in the late 20th and early 21st centuries as signature site types.
Starting in 1619 and ending on March 22, 1622, the Virginia Company of London built the first heavy industry on this side of the Atlantic. This site was the only location on the James River between the Atlantic Ocean and the Fall Line at Richmond for that venture, having raw materials, water power, iron ore and transport all available in one spot.
Two years after Captain Bluett selected the site for iron production in 1619, a second expedition led by John Berkley, his son Maurice and 20 ironworkers arrived at Falling Creek. Although Berkley wrote to the Virginia Company that he would produce iron for them by the spring of the next year, the Powhatan Indians included the ironworks in their colony-wide attack and massacre on March 22, 1622, which killed 27 English workers and left the building in ruins. Although several attempts to restore the ironworks occurred, none were successful.
Archibald Cary of Ampthill had recognized the importance of Falling Creek and the potential of the area’s ability to provide resources to support settlement and commerce. Falling Creek was the site of Archibald Cary's Chesterfield Forge, starting in 1750 and ending in 1781 when it was burned by Benedict Arnold. Cary was a major backer of the American Revolution and ran the forge for the war effort. He also had a gunpowder mill on Pocoshock Creek and owned mines in Wythe County. He was one of the true patriots who backed the war with his own funds and effort.
In 1760, Archibald Cary built a forge on the north side of Falling Creek. The forge proved to be unprofitable, so Cary turned his attention to a grist mill, which was destroyed during the American Revolution. The mill was rebuilt in the 1850s by John Watkins and was active until about 1906. The stone foundations on the north side of the creek are the remains of that mill.
Falling Creek also has one of the very few 17th century buildings in the state. The stone foundations on the north side of the creek were reputedly built as a gristmill by William Byrd in the 4th quarter of the 17th century. The date attribution is untested. The building itself is a wonderfully complex set of rebuilds in stone attesting to the power of Falling Creek and the tenacious mindset of the people who worked in the mill.
Just west of Falling Creek, near present day historic Route 1 lays the remnants of the only pre-20th century bridge still standing in the county. This old stone bridge built in 1826 was largely constructed from stone that may have been salvaged from the blast furnace from the original ironworks. The bridge was originally called the Manchester and Petersburg Turnpike Bridge, a privately owned and operated toll road. It is part of the State’s first wayside Park established in 1933, memorializing the early ironworks.
Upstream from the present ruins of Archibald Cary’s Mill was the location of the first planned community in the area. Known as the village of Bensley, this community was marketed as a convenient streetcar suburb and was developed by Roger Bensley in the 1930’s and was located only 20 minutes from Richmond. The streetcar line connected the village to Richmond and Petersburg.
At the turn of the twentieth century another industry was taking shape along the banks of Falling Creek. In 1934, officials from the Old Dixie Distilling Company attempted to build a liquor plant at the site of the original ironworks. They met with local opposition because of the historical and archaeological significance of the site.
Native American History
The land where the Virginia Company of London had established the first iron furnace was initially settled by Native Americans of the Powhatan Confederacy. Chief Powhatan had worked to foster peace early with the English. The marriage of his daughter Pocahontas to John Smith had helped ease tensions between the two cultures. Eventual expansion and encroachment by more English explorers led to increased tensions and placed more pressure on the Indians. Adding to this was poor crop harvests during 1617. This led to numerous raids in 1619-21.
The third and last chief of the Powhatan Chiefdom, Opechancanough, began forging alliances with various Powhatan tribes and allied nations to resume warfare with the English. This led to eventual coordinated raids throughout the region during the spring of 1622 to thwart any additional English expansion and retain their lands. Today, the state of Virginia has recognized 8 Powhatan Indian descended tribes in Virginia which are descended from the original Powhatan nation that once occupied this region. Collectively the tribes have an estimated 3,000-3,500 enrolled tribal members. Two of these tribes, the Mattaponi and Pamunkey, still retain their reservations from the 17th century.
The 17th Century
Soon after the settlement at Jamestown began in 1607, exploration of the interior began. The James River was explored to Richmond by Captain John Smith and Christopher Newport. Somewhere between 1607 and 1610, Falling Creek was identified as a near perfect place for heavy industry.
Communication back to the Virginia Company in England extolled the virtues of Falling Creek. Venture capitalists of the day were contacted and a Captain Benjamin Bluett was hired as ironmaster in 1619. Bluett and 80 men were sent an ironworks. The Virginia Company records also indicate plans to send 150 men to establish no less than 3 ironworks in Virginia; the idea that iron could be smelted to good profit in Virginia was a multi-pronged operation. However, there is no indication of another ironworks apart from Falling Creek being started. Bluett died either on the voyage over or shortly after arrival and others of his men likewise perished from seasoning, a process that killed from 50-90% of the early immigrants. The death of the ironmaster who was the sole person who knew how to actually run the furnace along with carpenters to build the dam, flume, water wheel, camshaft, bellows and whatever else had to be built from scratch after the wood was sawn and shaped into lumber were severe impediments to doing anything but nibbling around the edges of the project. The remnants were not able to complete the blast furnace at Falling Creek.
Interest in iron making did not stop. John Berkeley was hired in 1621 on the same conditions as Bluett. With a crew to finish one blast furnace, John Berkeley, with his son Maurice and 25 others, set sail for Virginia. In a letter back, Berkeley promised a plentiful supply of iron by Whitsuntide (June 9, 1622). And the iron works brought after 5,000 pounds expenses to that assured perfection, as within 3 months they promised to send home great quantities. However, the Powhatans had other plans. The death of Powhatan and the ascension of Opechancanough as paramount chief brought an end to any accommodation with the English who had expanded their settlements farther into Powhatan territories. A coordinated attack was planned for all of the English settlements for the morning of March 22, 1622. Hundreds of settlers were killed in the attacks. Their aim was to force the English to leave the Powhatan territory. At Falling Creek, 2 children survived and the ironworks was destroyed.
The second iron working venture followed immediately after the 1622 uprising when Maurice Berkeley, who was away from Falling Creek and survived the attack, attempted to restart Falling Creek but was unsuccessful.
The third attempt was in the period 1634 to 1636. Sir John Zouch came to Virginia in 1634. In his 1636 will that was proved in 1639 he lamented that his son had spent upwards of £250 plus more of Zouch’s own to no result in getting the ironworks going again. Zouch had sold his English holdings for £10,000. If his expenditure equaled his son’s, putting over 5% of his worth into this venture showed extraordinary resolve.
The fourth and fifth iron working ventures came after William Byrd I accumulated at least part of the original Zouch patent via various transactions. The Higgins, et. al. Report cites Hatch and Gregory who cite Brock (1885) who stated that in 1687 and 1696 William Byrd I undertook the revival of the ironworks at Falling Creek. Unfortunately, the extent of his revival is unknown. He is credited with the erection of a sawmill and tannery on the property.
The many successive attempts to smelt iron on an industrial scale at Falling Creek after the 1622 event were all failures. However, the burning question was whether it got into blast under John Berkley. A blast furnace produces 2 products: glassy slag that is discarded and pig iron that is the salable product. To date, none of the characteristic glassy slag has been recovered, although one piece might have been. Without this conclusive evidence in hand, it cannot be said that Falling Creek got into blast before its destruction.
The 18th Century
The sixth iron working venture started no earlier than 1749 when Archibald Cary inherited the property from his father. According to Robert Brock, Cary started an iron works to produce bar iron from pig. This finery forge operation has a varied history. Hatch and Gregory, using unattributed sources, state that the forge was unprofitable, and the land soon returned to grist milling.
However, they go on to cite other referenced sources that argue for continuous operations through to 1781 when the structures on the property were burned by Benedict Arnold. Hatch and Gregory cite a 1769 visitor who had seen the operating iron works and a 1779 visit by a British prisoner of war relates that the iron works at Falling Creek were in use. The 1769 visitor published his book in 1784 and commented in margin notes that the works were destroyed in 1781 by the British. It appears that the assertion that the ironworks were unprofitable and turned to other operations including grist milling can now be shown to be partially true. He probably shut down the forge and later started it for the American Revolution.
The hardwood from the site that was examined by Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory dates it in the 1720’s and 1730’s, which corresponds to the first building of the forge in 1750 and the second set of hardwood dates in the 1760’s and 1770’s, which corresponds to a rebuild done for Cary’s Wheel Horse of the Revolution sobriquet for his Revolutionary War efforts.
The 19th Century
The gristmill continued after the death of Archibald Cary. It was improved by adding a headrace from a new dam upstream that provided a steadier water supply than the volatile waters at the falls downstream. In that century, the mill appears to have been built higher by the addition of at least 2 floors, as well as extended westward to fit the new headrace. The headrace flume was replaced by a pipe, the hole for which may still be seen at the mill seat.
Robert Alonzo Brock of the Smithsonian started academic research at the site when he visited in 1876 and published his findings in 1885. He wrote that he found scoriae on the ground proving the site produced iron.
The 20th Century
The 20th century was the swan song for industrial activity on Falling Creek. Gristmills had been gradually phased out as the monster mills of the Midwest superseded the smaller custom mills elsewhere. Their demise was greatly aided by sanitary laws that in effect forced the smaller mills out of business due to the cost of upgrading. The owners of the Falling Creek mill diversified their operation to include grinding mica for the paint industry. Mica was the basis for the gloss in paint. Falling Creek mill probably went the way of most mills in Virginia that were within the reach of a wrecker’s cable that was used to pull out the metal for the war effort in World War II.
The mill burned and what was left was a set of stone walls that hold the history of the site in them. The mill walls show various repairs, rebuilds, extensions and upgrades chronicling the life of the mill from probably the 17th century into the 21st century. Even the east doorway is enigmatic. Rather than rectangular, it is trapezoidal.
Roger Bensley developed Bensley Village in the 1930’s and acquired Falling Creek as part of his holdings. It was the first Bon Air type of planned community south of the James. Bensley had a bulldozer and used it to uncover what he termed the furnace with several enigmatic structures. His efforts were used as the basis for more formal investigations by historians and archaeologists. Unfortunately, Bensley never produced a map of his work, nor was one produced later that showed where he found his features.
Roland Wells Robbins who excavated at Saugus in Massachusetts visited the site twice. Paul Hudson, curator at Jamestown and Frederick Pease of the Chesterfield Historical Society conducted extensive correspondence regarding the site. Charles Hatch and Thurlow Gates Gregory investigated the site and performed metallurgical analysis on pig iron recovered from the site. Howard A. MacCord, Sr., then State Archaeologist, conducted excavations at the site in 1962 using Archeological Society of Virginia volunteers, and the College of William and Mary also surveyed on both sides of the creek. Higgins, et al. all claim to have found evidence of a blast furnace on the site. Their efforts provided the first accurate map of the gristmill, the falls and the post sockets visible before the later floods uncovered more. Their work on the gristmill property has compiled the archival history of the property.
Browning & Associates, Ltd. interest in the project grew out of long-term interest in ironworking sites and by James H. Brothers IV’s Masters Thesis work on iron. We had by then decided to work from first principles to re-examine the entire issue of when the ironworks operated there, how it operated and what happened after the 1622 termination. We were also cognizant that the Cary Forge had altered the landscape enormously. Visits to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Historical Society revealed that artifacts previously identified as part of the 17th century venture were in fact part of Cary’s Forge.
Falling Creek Today
Falling Creek is now part of the Chesterfield County parks system. If you stand on the promontory to the north of where old Marina Drive ends, you can see the entire site. The site has 2 sets of falls. The upper falls has a drop of less than 3 feet and the lower falls has a drop of about 6 feet. On the right or south bank on the stream edge several square and rectangular post sockets are visible. These are thought to be part of the dam and flume system for the ironworks. Some were visible in the 1950’s but the floods of the 1990’s and early 2000’s have exposed far more. At the lower falls, a small set of post sockets extends across the upper lip of the falls, probably supporting a strongback dam.
The concrete walls just below the falls with the automobile axle that is a vertical support are remnants of Roger Bensley’s 1930’s planned community. The pool east of the lower falls is about 20 feet deep and has been a favorite swimming hole for generations of residents. Before Hurricane Gaston, a sycamore tree with a rope provided a swing out to drop into the water. A rock ledge is visible on the east side of the pool. This was exposed by the hurricane and also has post sockets cut into it.
There are also signs of rock quarrying on the south side of the creek. Various 1-inch diameter holes can be seen that were used to place gunpowder to obtain quarry blocks probably in the 1823 for the bridge just upstream. Some may be part of the Falling Creek Ironworks or part of Cary’s Forge operations.
The south channel has wooden timbers of Archibald Cary’s Forge visible. The timbers are currently interpreted as a raceway for water power for the working apparatus that powered the forge. The flume that supplied the overshot wheel that was the first in the line was just below the promontory to the east. The width of the raceway and the construction characteristics indicate that it functioned to hold water. That in turn means that the wastewater from the overshot wheel then spilled into the chute and in turn powered an undershot wheel. Although undershot wheels don’t have as much power as overshot types, they are useful. Alternatively, we are now exploring modeling the system to see if we can get 2 overshot wheels to conceivably work in the system.
At low tide, the highest timber is nearly out of the water. Beneath it, if the water is clear, two 24-inch square timbers can be seen placed at right angles to the east-west upper timber. These are the foundation for the water wheel, the axle and bellows for Cary’s forge. They were cut in 2 phases. The first were cut from 1730-1740 and the second set were cut from 1760-1770 according to the dendrochronology work done that calibrated the tree-rings to calendar year dates.
The stone building on the north bank was a gristmill may have been built by William Byrd in the late 17th century. It was certainly in use by Archibald Cary. He constructed a headrace that appears on an 1802 plat. The gristmill was last used in the 20th century to grind mica which makes glossy paint “glossy." On the high ground behind the mill there was a whiskey distillery that operated in the early 20th century. That area also includes the miller’s house shown on the 1802 plat.
Plans for Falling Creek
Conventional wisdom had the Falling Creek Ironworks on the south or right bank of Falling Creek and Archibald Cary’s Chesterfield Forge on the north or left bank of Falling Creek. This was uniformly accepted from the 1885 Brock investigation to the 1994 William & Mary excavation. However, later investigations showed that interaction between the 2 banks had occurred and that what are now known to be erroneous assumptions were made.
The dam across the channel that today hugs the north side of the floodplain was a ripple except at extreme low tides when the character was more evident. It contained skulls and mossers from Cary’s forge operation. The floodplain was also littered with forge slag. Therefore, if the north bank belongs only to Cary hypothesis was true, there should have been no Cary material on the south bank. The biggest problem with this is that it flies in the face of standard practice. Cary owned both banks for a considerable distance on either side and there was no sound reason for him to have avoided the south side of the creek. In light of the very large pile of slag reportedly removed by the Highway Department in the 1930’s for road fill being on the south bank on the lower floodplain, the left bank supposition was built on no real evidence. Cleanouts of a culvert under Marina Drive just below the promontory were about half full of forge slag. The excavations of Hatch and Gregory as well as MacCord all had copious amounts of forge slag in them.
Cary operated his forge which produced copious amounts of slag as an industrial waste product. At the end of each day, each forge hearth was allowed to cool. In the next morning, the cooled slag lumps called skulls or mossers (so named for their resemblance to the human skull) were gathered and dumped off-site. This material was dumped on the floodplain to build up the land from floods and to provide a firm base for the buildings that Benedict Arnold burned in 1781.
Hatch and Gregory, MacCord and the W&M investigations all mentioned a charcoal pile. Accepted wisdom was that it was the charcoal pile for the blast furnace. A radiocarbon date of 1570 was obtained which seemed to validate the proposition.
There is but one large problem with that hypothesis. It is in the wrong location for a blast furnace. Blast furnaces are fed (charged) from the top via a charging bridge. Where the charcoal patch was located was on the floodplain and was at the toe of the slope. That is decidedly the wrong place to put charcoal which will absorb moisture and become useless.
The magnetometer survey (Jones & Maki 1999) showed a large magnetic anomaly consistent with a blast furnace under the road to the marina downstream. Once the road was moved, the plan was for the roadfill to be removed in order to see what physical traces of the blast furnace site could be identified.
A trackhoe was brought in and the road fill was removed down to a charcoal layer. As charcoal was a component of the blast furnace, machine work was stopped. Stratigraphic archaeological excavation of two trenches showed that the charcoal contained barbed wire (post-1874) and clear glass (20th century) and was therefore part of Bensley’s road fill. The charcoal itself had no “structural integrity” and was in fact smashed into microscopic pieces by Bensley’s work. The charcoal layer in turn overlay another fill layer.
A mini excavator was then brought in to remove the fill and yet another charcoal layer was discerned below the gravelly fill. Excavation was again done by natural layers and yet more smashed charcoal and barbed wire was discovered. The mini excavator was again brought in and more material was removed down to what appears to be undisturbed archaeological layers.
We are now at the stage where the next step will be to go into the cribwork that Archibald Cary built for his forge from 1750-1781. To do that, we are going to have to remove the crib infill and expose the timbers. The timbers are massive, some as large as 36 inches by 44 inches by 120 inches while others are just big and long (18 inches by 33 feet). To let these pieces of history just decay to nothing is too terrible to contemplate. We will need to get them up after they’re recorded, then preserve them in chemicals, store them until we can get a museum built and finally put them into a display of very large and early timbers. To preserve the timbers, we need to have a storage space, to build a tank long enough and deep enough to put the timbers in it and to purchase the chemicals to preserve the timbers. All that takes time and it is expensive.
Once that part is done, we want to see how Cary renovated the 17th century Virginia Company cribwork as the magnetic anomaly the survey showed hasn’t been found yet and is presumably down under all the Cary built cribwork.
The short terms goals are to finance the excavation and preservation of the Cary Forge timbers and to investigate the 17th century ironworks remnants below them.
As the furnace had to be fed from the top, either the promontory was the “top” or the higher ground where the apartments are located was the “top." Bensley in his construction has altered the back or south end of the promontory such that the original contours cannot be determined. If the original slope was steep, it is more likely that the higher elevation by the apartments was used. But, as the height of the stack is not known, and 17th century furnaces were not as high as later ones (up to the 25 foot limit), it is possible that the promontory was where the charging bridge was located. Another factor is that the elevation of the base of the furnace over sea level is not now known. Given eustatic sea level rises of 4 feet, the possible seat might have been that much lower. The promontory might have been quite high enough.
The charcoal pile was in the correct location to feed a set of forge hearths that Cary had set up. But, that would go against conventional wisdom and was not considered likely until Hurricane Fran, followed by Hurricane Gaston, cut an “L” shaped channel out of the floodplain and removed all of the alluvial sands on the upper floodplain.
The Falling Creek Ironworks Foundation engaged Browning & Associates, Ltd. to do a set of strata cuts in the bank of the cut to determine the sequence. It was then noted that a thick layer of clay had been deposited down into the cut and that it contained 20th century debris, notably three hole molded bricks.
At first glance, the channel opened by Fran had the appearance of a major flood event by cutting a channel in the floodplain, but nothing indicated it was anything other than a single event. When Gaston came through, water was high enough to cover the promontory, and in fact nearly demolished the Falling Creek bridge upstream. It also peeled back the banks, removed Bensley’s retaining walls, removed the floodplain sands and widened the cut. The cut banks then revealed several tree stumps that were apparently in situ but at the bottom of the cut at the water level. These stumps all angled out into the water entirely consistent with trees that had once grown along the banks of the stream.
Subsequent to that, 2 storms in successive weeks in early 2007 dropped 4 inches of rain each into the Falling Creek drainage and the resultant floodwaters again altered the landscape. Their chief result was to widen and deepen the cut. The result was that Ralph Lovern noted that large timbers were protruding from the south bank of the new cut on the south bank of Falling Creek.
Enough material had been removed by then to provide information to interpret the sequence of events with some accuracy. This also necessitated completely revisiting and discarding the binary idea of settlement between the two separate sequences of iron operations there. It was abundantly clear that Cary had operated on the south bank and if subsequent excavations are done, will certainly prove that his forge operated there. The thick clay layer was shown to be deposited by Bensley in order to infill the cut channel and tailrace channel for Cary’s forge operation. As conventional wisdom has also held that the stone mill remnant on the north bank was William Byrd’s gristmill, the seating of the forge on the opposite side of the creek would make more sense from a physical spacing viewpoint. Also, low tides have shown that a wall lining the north bank of the north cut of Falling Creek east of the mill is in fact the edging for a roadway that is underpinned by planks and which is oriented to the dam that is largely composed of skulls and mossers. This road and dam would offer access to the floodplain from the north bank of the creek. We presume that there was a bridge crossing the cut on the south bank to allow crossing of that water body.
So rather than having one stream course hugging the north bank of Falling Creek, it appears that at for part of the time, there were two watercourses in operation and that Cary’s Chesterfield Forge was in operation on the south bank while Byrd’s Mill (later Cary’s Mill) was in operation on the north bank.