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Day-tripping at Furnace Town

The Furnace Town Living Heritage Village in Snow Hill is one of my favorite spots for a day trip from Ocean City. The recreated 19th century town should be a mandatory stop for all history buffs, as this little piece of Eastern Shore history is a super engaging educational opportunity for adults and kids alike. While Furnace Town is about a 40 minute drive from OC, the mini-roadtrip will take you through Berlin and Maryland’s Blue Crab Scenic Byway.

If you plan on making the journey yourself (which you should!), I recommend you dedicate the day to exploring a little bit of historic Berlin, taking in the scenery around Pocomoke River and maybe enjoying a meal and a shopping trip in downtown Snow Hill. Furnace Town itself is enough to keep you busy for several hours, but if you want to make the most of the adventure, these pit stops are worth the extra time spent (plus, you’ll want to stop for nourishment at some point anyway). 

I only came for a few hours of self-guided exploration, but visit on the right day and you can partake in a guided tour, a Chesapeake ghost walk or an archaeological dig, and the summer Americana Music Series provides a fun-filled afternoon with live bluegrass and Celtic music, barbecue and local brews. The village also offers classes for kids and adults on 19th century folk crafts like weaving, broom making and printing. 

There’s so much history inside the little tucked-away village, and I received a thorough education during my Sunday day-trip from the historically-costumed villagers. I’ve captioned the photos below with a few tidbits of interest, but I can’t begin to describe the entirety of Furnace Town’s rich and intriguing history–for that, you’ll have to visit for yourself.  

Photos by William Strang-Moya. 

We’ll start with the famous kiln for which the village was named. In 1828, the Nassawango Iron Furnace was erected and it’s the only piece of architecture in the Living Village that’s actually original to Furnace Town. Until 1850, laborers loaded raw materials into the top of the furnace and then heated it to 3,000 degrees to produce slag (which was tossed into the swamp) and iron, which was poured into molds and transported to Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York. 
Furnace info
The museum in the village details the iron making process. When the furnace was in use, about 300 people lived in the town and worked as blacksmiths, broom makers, wainwrights, wheelwrights, bakers, cobblers, coopers and weavers.
Stuffed wolf
There’s also some pretty cool wildlife on display in the museum. Families survived mostly off of their gardens and the animals they hunted. 
There’s even a garden outside that has herbs, spices and vegetables growing, true to what families in Furnace Town really would have grown for themselves.
In the Weave House, weaver Sarah Campbell works on making the scarves that are sold in Furnace Town’s Visitor Center. In the 19th century, clothes were woven by hand and were much more expensive than the mass-produced, factory-made clothes available to us today. Campbell explained that many working class families would only buy clothes for their first-born daughter and son, passing down the hand-me-downs to the younger kids in order to save money.
The machines that Campbell and the other weavers work on are 200-300 years old. Here, she’s loading up the loom, a two-day process that requires nimble fingers and a lot of patience. 
On the opposite side of town from the Weave House is the Old Nazareth Church.
School teacher
And down the path from the church is the schoolhouse. “Schoolteacher” Savanna Hastings holds up a photo of schoolchildren similar to those that would have attended school in Furnace Town. The Mt. Zion One Room Schoolhouse was actually built in 1869 near Whiton, 19 years after Furnace Town was abandoned, and was used as a school until 1931. The building was later moved to Snow Hill and reopened in 1964 to teach others the history of the schoolhouse. It was only recently moved to Furnace Town, where it now stands. 
The schoolhouse has a variety of 19th century relics, like the ol’ wooden paddle. Hastings says kids get terrified when she shows it to them, thinking she’s really about to use the old punishment device. 
Missy, a 15-year-old cat, was lying around outside the Wood Shop on Sunday afternoon. She’s known to come and go around the village, but while she’s a  friendly old cat, she tends to stay away from crowds. 
Wood shop worker
Bill Cecil works in the Wood Shop, and if you have any questions, he’s the guy to go to–Cecil has a wealth of knowledge on Furnace Town. 
Furnace town arch
Admittedly, I do not know the significance of this branch arch, but I did awkwardly pose for a photo underneath it. Behind me is the pavilion, and a glimpse of the Visitor Center. 
If you don’t visit Furnace Town for its historical significance, at least come to see all the beautiful growing things. Just be prepared with bug spray if you come during the summer, because the only downside of the village (and most places outdoors) is the occasional buzzing right by your ear. 


Kristin is a writer and photographer in Ocean City, Maryland, and is the content manager for OceanCity.com and other State Ventures, LLC sites. She loves getting reader-submitted stories and photos, so send her an email anytime. She also works part-time at the Art League of Ocean City and the Ocean City Film Festival and lives just off the peninsula with her dog and fiancé. Her photos can be found on Instagram @oc_kristin.

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