Historic Poole Forge

Eastern Lancaster County is home to a park that pays homage to what was once a vital industry to the fledgling country – iron forges. Known as Historic Poole Forge, the park offers visitors a unique combination of history, nature and community. 

A preserved forge hammer marks the spot where the original forge building once stood, before it collapsed in 1910. Also in view are the park’s office building (a former tenant house) and the covered bridge that dates to 1859.

The 26-acre park, which is located in Narvon, has been owned by Caernarvon Township since 2005, at which time a nonprofit board of directors was formed to oversee renovation and restoration projects on the property. The park’s highlights include a preserved ironmaster’s mansion, remnants of kilns, a play area, a pavilion, a restored cottage, a nature trail, wildflower meadows, beautiful gardens and a covered bridge that spans the Conestoga. 

A Peace Garden is located behind the park’s offices and offers a view of the Conestoga River, kilns and woodland.

Poole Forge was part of the iron industry that flourished in Lancaster and Lebanon counties during the 18th century. James Old, a Welsh immigrant, purchased the property in 1775. It originally consisted of 472 acres and was comprised of 38 buildings. He purchased pig iron from other forges and refined it, enabling him to sell iron to blacksmiths, larger markets and the Colonial Army. In 1795, his son, Davis, took over the forge, operating it until 1852, after which time a succession of owners lived on the premises. Poole Forge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. 

As for the covered bridge, in April 1858, 62 citizens signed a petition that called for a bridge to be built over the Conestoga. In May 1859, Levi Fink entered into a contract to build a bridge for the sum of $1,219. It was finished in August. In 1980 the 99-foot-long bridge was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The Ironmaster’s Mansion underwent extensive renovations and is now used as an events venue that hosts weddings, teas, bridal/baby showers and other social events, as well as community events such as art exhibits, lectures and workshops. The mansion is surrounded by gardens and massive trees.

Dawn Rise Eckdahl, phD, who has been the executive director of Historic Poole Forge for nearly 10 years, is proud of the property and the many improvements that have been made since 2005. “The restored mansion is now used for community lectures and events; it’s also hosted both adult and children’s nature conservation and education programs,” she notes. 

“Last year, we performed an extensive restoration on the covered bridge, replacing over 100 boards with properly dried hemlock. The entire bridge was treated with fireproofing under a donation from the National Covered Bridge Society,” she reports. 

Pumpkin, Poole Forge’s resident greeter, has been a fixture at the park for six years.

Grants from such organizations as the Sierra Club, and projects undertaken by Eagle Scouts and in partnership with the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, Lancaster Conservancy and others have added such features as a bridge over the mill race, a wishing well and displays of the original hammers. “During the 2019 season, we performed our most extensive restorations. Working with a grant under the Lancaster Conservation District, approximately 1/4 mile of the Conestoga Creek was reconstructed, creating new habitat for fish and freshwater organisms,” Dawn explains. “With the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay funding and volunteers, we have planted over 100 native trees and shrubs as additional riparian buffers along the creek. We have also added nature trails, a wildflower/grassland meadow, a pollinator garden and bird houses and habitat in partnership with the Sierra Club and local Eagle Scouts. We are now working with CBF on the improvement of the Conestoga Creek Watershed.” 

Beams inside the covered bridge are carved with visitors’ names dating back as far as 1870.

Just recently, Historic Poole Forge hosted a Watershed program during Lancaster Conservancy’s Water Week and was the recipient of the 2024 Community Revitalization Award, presented by the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County. 

“Historic Poole Forge provides a place for the community to learn, play, gather together, picnic, hike, fish and enjoy nature,” Dawn points out. A sense of community is also being reinforced through Historic Poole Forge’s continuing efforts to focus on “the importance of the historical preservation of our unique industry and the Welsh heritage of the region, as well as the preservation of our environment and waterways for our future generations.”

The park’s connection to the community is reflected in plant swaps, a Children’s Trout Derby that takes place in April, as well as the following upcoming events: 

  • July & August: Children’s programming, with a focus on nature and the outdoors
  • September 6: Fall Plant Swap (6 p.m.)
  • September 14: Poole Forge Day (9 a.m.-5 p.m.)
  • October 13: Cruise to the Forge (10 a.m.-3 p.m.)
  • November 22-24: Fall Auction/Fundraiser 
  • December 14: Welsh Christmas 

Information: 1940 Main St., Narvon. Open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. Historicpooleforge.org. 

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