There’s a long and likely costly road ahead to restore several “seriously vandalized” buildings at the Furnace Town Historic Site in Worcester County.
Executive Director Claudia Nagle said the vandalism occurred between the night of Tuesday, Sept. 21, and the early hours of Wednesday, Sept. 22, leaving behind “pretty significant” damage that’s made seven building unusable for artisans and touring.
This is typically Furnace Town’s busiest time of year, Nagle explained. School tours come through the historic site, and the good weather ushers in lots of visitors to see the grounds and experience the demonstrations by Furnace Town’s artisans.
Furnace Town is supposed to be open to visitors Thursdays through Sundays, but is currently closed, except for some outdoor weddings and possibly the yearly trick-or-treating event that may still happen later in October.
Lots of glass has already been cleaned up and buildings have been secured so that people can’t enter them, but Nagle stressed being able to ensure visitors’ safety is key before the site reopens to the public.
“So many of the buildings that were damaged are buildings of historic significance for the county, and it’s not an easy repair in that you cannot just purchase a window or order a window from one of the big box stores,” she said.
Pieces will have to be custom created to reflect the time period when they would have been made — a factor that’s expected to increase the cost of repairs and expand the time needed to get the job done.
Furnace Town sprung up in the 1800s around an iron furnace built to make use of the raw materials from the area’s bogs for the Maryland Iron Company. As many as 300 people lived there at one point.
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The furnace ended its run in 1850, but was rediscovered in the 1960s when work began to restore it and relocate buildings of historical significance to the site. It’s now one of Worcester’s larger collections of historical buildings, Nagle said, giving visitors a glimpse into the furnace’s past and what life was like in the 19th century.
Furnace Town closes its 2021 season on Oct. 31, and Nagle anticipates repairs will likely take several months because the materials and craftsmanship needed are not commonplace.
“This coming on the heels of COVID-19 … it really takes away our ability to fulfill our mission of education and sharing the heritage of our area,” she said.
There’s no estimate yet on what repairs may cost, Nagle said, as contractors with the skills and experience to handle this kind of historic restoration still have to be identified.
A restoration company has already been working on Furnace Town’s cleanup, Nagle explained, and Maryland State Police have an investigation underway to determine who is responsible for the vandalism.
Nagle said there will be opportunities for the many people who have reached out wanting to help to volunteer and make monetary donations. She is also encouraging anyone with information about the vandalism to contact Maryland State Police.
Based on the extent of the damage, Nagle said she believes there was likely more than one person involved. She noted this is the first incident of its kind at Furnace Town.
“It was rather shocking to have that happen here,” she said.