Illinois Iron Furnace Guide

Illinois Iron Furnace isn’t just a nice spot for a picnic on a warm sunny day. It’s the last remaining Iron Furnace in the region. It’s a piece of southern Illinois history worth seeing for yourself.

Illinois Iron Furnace is the last iron furnace in the State of Illinois, aside from a few foundations or very damaged furnaces.

This once historic area is now a picnic site for visitors of the Shawnee National Forest. This guide gives you detailed directions, site information, history, and other things to do around the area.

Directions to Illinois Iron Furnace

Getting to the Illinois Iron Furnace is easy but can be tricky for some.

View driving directions from the Shawnee National Forest HQ in Harrisburg.

View driving directions from the Hidden Springs Ranger Station in Vienna.

View driving directions from the Mississippi Bluffs Ranger Station in Jonesboro.

Most roads are paved to Illinois Iron Furnace, but a few back roads to the picnic site are gravel. There are usually a few washouts and potholes encountered on those roads. Most vehicles should be able to drive on those roads as long as caution is used.

WINTER TRAVEL: The roads leading to Illinois Iron Furnace are not always a priority for snow and ice removal. These roads may be hazardous and difficult to travel on during wintry conditions. Please use extreme caution when traveling to this area during wintry weather conditions.

PUBLIC HEALTH: Notices, alerts, and closure information for public health emergencies can be found on the Shawnee National Forest website.


Trail Information for Illinois Iron Furnace

There are no real trails at this location. There are historical information signs, the Furnace, and parking.

There is a vault restroom on site.

There is a pavilion where you can do picnics and BBQ events. This area is first come, first serve. There is no permit or rental process unless used for commercial purposes.

Pets are fine as long as they are on a leash.

TRAIL HAZARDS: You should be aware of some hazards associated with Illinois Iron Furnace.

  • Venomous copperhead and timber rattlesnakes occur in this area
  • Poison ivy occurs in this area
  • Ticks, mosquitoes, and biting flies occur in this area
  • Please use caution around the user-made trail by the Furnace
  • Do not climb the Furnace – it is prohibited.
  • Use caution around Big Creek, as some areas are deep


What You Will See at the Iron Furnace

The main attraction at the Illinois Iron Furnace picnic site is the Iron Furnace. It is a reconstructed Iron Furnace with historical information signs explaining its history and process.

There is also a pavilion and picnic tables for picnic and BBQ events.

There is a creek (and parking lot) across from the Iron Furnace on Shawnee National Forest land. It is a swimming hole for locals and visitors alike. The stream is Big Creek which runs through the area. It is a very scenic creek that many generations have enjoyed.


History of the Illinois Iron Furnace

The Illinois Iron Furnace was built around 1837 to 1839. Chalon Guard and Leonard White of Equality, Illinois, owned it.

The Furnace was used for smelting locally mined iron ore. Smelting is when heat is applied to an ore to extract a base metal. In this case, the metal was Iron. Several former iron ore mines are scattered throughout the area and the Shawnee National Forest.

Iron Pigs were sent from the Illinois Iron Furnace to Elizabethtown, Illinois. Iron Pigs is crude Iron obtained from the smelting process. This crude Iron was shipped by boat all over the Ohio River.

From 1861 to 1868, the Furnace wasn’t used. This was due to labor shortages as a result of the Civil War. There is a local legend that a stockpile of iron ore was smelted from time to time to provide Iron to the Union Navy at Mound City. It would have taken several dozen men to operate the Iron Furnace.

By 1883, the Illinois Iron Furnace ceased operations permanently. This was when the iron age in Illinois was over.

The Furnace was heavily damaged during roadway construction in the 1930s.

In 1967, the Golconda Job Corps reconstructed the Illinois Iron Furnace to preserve its history. A picnicking site was created in the area shortly after its reconstruction.

In 1973, the site was added to the National Registry of Historical Places.

The Illinois Iron Furnace is the only surviving Furnace in Illinois.


Other Stuff To Do Around the Iron Furnace

While in the area, visit other recreation areas such as Garden of the Gods for hiking. The Pounds Hollow Beach makes for a wonderful place to cool off on a hot day. Go for a bike ride or kayak at Glen O Jones Lake. Ride horses from High Knob Campground to Double M Campground. See another blast from the past at Cave-in-Rock State Park.

The Gap Bar and The Red Onion are great local favorites for dining in the area. Harbison’s Country Store is the last place to get gas around the Illinois Iron Furnace area.

Visit the Garden of the Gods Outpost for Shawnee Forest merchandise, ice cream, and Bigfoot stuff.

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Thanks again for checking out another one of my articles and until next time, I’ll see you on the trail!

Shawn Gossman

Shawn Gossman

Founder, Hiking with Shawn

Howdy folks! My name is Shawn Gossman and I founded Hiking with Shawn. I’m an avid hiker, cyclist and outdoorsman here in the Shawnee National Forest. I was born and raised in Southern Illinois and never want to leave. Click here to learn more about Shawn Gossman

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