I recently read Norman Scott’s book, Shenandoah Iron. This treasure contains stories about the prosperous iron industry that once thrived in the Shenandoah Valley.

All that remains of this once-thriving industry are cold furnaces sprinkled through the forests while many have disappeared completely. Improved processes rendered locally produced iron obsolete, and the industry gradually died.

Van Buren Furnace
Photo by George Bowers

According to Scott, the town of Luray, VA grew up around the Redwell Furnace, later renamed Isabella. After moving from Pennsylvania, Derrick Pennybacker built a furnace on Hawksbill Creek in the late 1700s. The enterprise grew to include a grist mill, sawmill, cafeteria, church, school, and store.

George Washington used iron from this furnace for the armory at Harpers Ferry and Jefferson used it for stoves in Monticello and sash weights for the UVA Rotunda. The 1820 census reports the furnace employing over 160 people.

This thriving industrial complex suddenly collapsed in 1841 when the fire went out and the crucible full of molten iron hardened into what was called a salamander. The only way to remove this mass of metal was to disassemble the structure stone by stone and rebuild it. Although this was planned, it never happened and thus ended iron manufacturing at that location.

The records don’t indicate what caused this failure. Did someone go to sleep? Did workers go on strike? Did a thunderstorm drown the charcoal? It appears we will never know.

This economic catastrophe demonstrates the vital importance of maintaining relationships. Marriages too must be stoked and fresh fuel added in order to keep the relationship warm and close. We do that with loving words, kind actions, and intentional effort. Failure to attend to one’s spouse causes the fires of love to dwindle and eventually go out.

Other relationships also must be sustained. Regular interactions with children, parents, siblings, extended relatives, and friends help to stoke the fires of love and closeness. We also must guard against storms of anger or dishonesty that douse the flames and create salamanders that can be nearly impossible to dismantle.

It is even more important to maintain our relationship with Jesus. His indictment of the Ephesian church in Revelation 2 was that they had lost their first love. Although they were going through some motions, their close loving relationship had begun to harden. Jesus encouraged them to do what they did at first to keep their fire from dying.

Many Christians remember how wonderful they felt when they first met Jesus. Nothing could keep us from prayer, Bible reading, or worship. As time goes by, however, we sometimes neglect these disciplines and find ourselves further from our Savior.

Returning to those things we did at first is good advice for our human relationships, but also for our connection with Jesus. Making time and expending effort to throw fresh fuel on these fires will raise the temperature and bring greater warmth.

As we reflect on the salamander that killed an industrial complex, let’s learn its lessons to keep our relationships warm and vibrant.

George Bowers – CBC Executive Board member