If you’re visiting an oceanside resort, the city of Salisbury, or just eastern Maryland in general, there are many small places relatively close in distance that would help to enhance your East Coast vacation. If you’re tired of skyscrapers and traffic and want a less-visited solution, there is one area you could choose to consider. In the quaintly-named Snow Hill you can find a living history museum known as Furnace Town. True to its name, there is indeed an old furnace here from the 19th century. It is the focal point of the walking tour, but there is much more to see here than a rustic old furnace (although for schoolchildren especially, learning about the history of the important furnace is much more than a boring history lesson).
It is always a good idea to begin an introduction with a little bit of history concerning the area. The official name of the furnace for which Furnace Town is named was the “Nassawango Iron Furnace.” The community made use of this furnace from the early-to-mid 1800s and a few hundred people were once living scattered around its base. When the furnace was no longer needed, it fell into disuse. Fortunately the former village has returned in its modest beauty and is a great destination for anyone interested in Maryland’s history. You can walk up the long ramp to the furnace tower (the only part of it still in existence) and look down over the woodland. I recall walking behind the tower to hunt for unusual flowers. Furnace Town can be a nature walk as well if you visit in the spring.
You can enter many reconstructed buildings to get a feel for what life was like over a century ago. The finely-preserved church, historical homes and workshops make Furnace Town a great choice for school-age kids, but also a good place for mom and dad to learn some useful facts as well. There are many historical villages, but Furnace Town’s ambiance, set in the woods like a country village, makes it exceptional. On my own visit I remember continuously seeing an elusive pure white rabbit. In the 19th century, villagers may have kept such a creature as a pet. Such small details really throw you into the olden days.
More about the old buildings: Inside the church you can find a modest but elegant pulpit and dress displays showing what women would have worn in church in the 1800s. The printer, woodworking and blacksmith shops are all exquisitely recreated for the curious eye to explore, and you will find costumed “villagers” who should be happy to answer questions and give your children a glimpse into the past. The woodworker’s shop contains old tools and shows how these important implements were once made. The fact that Furnace Town is not a huge, bustling tourist attraction actually works in its favor, because it is much more pleasant to walk among the old buildings and enjoy a leisurely walking tour than to rush and scurry because of the hundred other people behind you, wanting to do the same things you are doing.
Furnace Town offers family activities throughout the year. Usually these are hiking trails or sky-watching tours, but sometimes there will be something very different: an archaeology dig. For $10.00 a day you can do your own “exploring” on the grounds. This is a great activity for kids, and the program is offered many times between April and October (visit www.furnacetown.com to find out if anything will be happening when you plan to visit). In December you can experience something truly wonderful if you attend Furnace Town’s “19th century Christmas.” This is a free event and will be a holiday outing you will never forget.
Check out Furnace Town’s gift shop for 19th century charm and perhaps some terrific jams and other foods. Here you can also purchase things made by the village “workers” like authentic brooms and artisan reproductions. If you have a travel or history room (or perhaps just a corner of a room) like I do, these items would be a fantastic addition to your decor.
Another great thing about Furnace Town is its reasonable entrance rates. Kids pay $2.00 and adults $4.00. It’s very important to note that the Living Heritage Museum can only be visited between April and October, so if you are thinking about visiting you will have to make sure to plan your vacation around this time. It is worth the extra effort to make sure you arrive when all buildings are available and open to the public.
By Lacie R. Schaeffer