History of Falling Creek Ironworks

Falling Creek has two distinct, but related, industries. 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 Archibald Cary, 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 destroyed only to be rediscovered in the early 21st century as signature site types.

The present location of Falling Creek Ironworks Park was the site of the first iron blast furnace built in the English New World. It was constructed in 1619 funded by the Virginia Company of London who wished to expand trade and further mine the iron ore from the colony. 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.

The first expedition led by Captain Bluett was unsuccessful, so a second expedition led by John Berkeley was organized in 1621. By early 1622 the works were completed and the furnace was ready to put into blast. On March 22, 1622, coordinated Indian raids throughout the region destroyed many settlements including the furnace.

Falling Creek also was the site of Archibald Cary of Ampthill’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.

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 latter part of the 17th century. 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.

The site, along with the old stone bridge built in 1826, is a Chesterfield County Historic Landmark, a Virginia Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. The site serves as an important symbol and an educational tool for telling the history of the birth of the industrial revolution.

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 eight 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.