The Manufacture of Charcoal Iron at Centre Furnace
The documented history of the region began when original land warrants, tracts of land conveyed by William Penn's domain, were transferred to private ownership. By 1774-75 twenty-three tracts at the foot of Mount Nittany had been surveyed and conveyed. Five of those became the core lands of Centre Furnace. Less than two decades later, another thirty warrants had been added, for an area of more than 16,000 acres to begin the Centre Furnace charcoal ironmaking operation. Today these lands spread over the Borough of State College and six Centre County townships: Ferguson, College, Harris, Patton, Halfmoon, and Benner.
In 1791, Revolutionary War veterans Samuel Miles and John Patton established Centre Furnace and its supporting village in a prime location in the Nittany Valley, an area rich with iron ore. The raw ingredients needed for charcoal iron were iron ore, limestone, and trees for the making of charcoal – the Nittany Valley was rich in all three. The hardwood forests immediately around Centre Furnace, as well as substantial landholdings much farther away, provided the essential resource for the making of charcoal, the fuel that would heat the furnace enough to "smelt" the iron.
The fourth ingredient needed for a successful iron furnace operation was water for power. At Centre Furnace, it was provided by a fast-moving Spring Creek tributary – Thompson Run. The abundant source of this run, originally called Willy Brook, was known to these early entrepreneurs as the Great Falling Spring. It provided water power not only for the furnace, but also for a large grist mill, saw mill, and forge, as was the water supply source for its residents.