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  • Ted Ladd and Jay Williams

The History of Beltsville (2 of 4)

Muirkirk ironworkers, about 1920. (L-r) Back row: John Weems, unknown, Meschach Conway, William Tolliver, Benjamin Conway, unknown; Middle row: William Stewart, Will Franklin, unknown; Front row: Shadrach Conway, Reason Ross. Source: Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation, History of Prince George’s County, Maryland

Muirkirk Iron Works

The Muirkirk Iron Works was established in 1847 when Andrew and Elias Ellicott purchased property next to the B&O Railroad tracks in Beltsville from the Snowden family and erected a furnace that was 38 feet high and 8 and ½ feet in diameter at the base. Iron ore was noticed in the area as early as 1800, but it was not mined until 1847.

Pig iron produced at the Muirkirk Iron Works was used in the manufacture of guns, shot, and shell supplied to Union forces during the Civil War. Annual production of the facility was some 7,000 tons of high-grade pig iron with exceptional tensile strength, resistant to breaking under pressure.

In 1860, William E. Coffin, one of Boston’s leading iron manufacturers, purchased the furnace from the Ellicotts and operated the facility until his death, about 1867. His son Charles took over management of the furnace, and it was he who named the facility Muirkirk Furnace, probably because the furnace was modeled from one in Muirkirk, Scotland. The Muirkirk settlement was established about 1870 and consisted of the Coffin family mansion, a post office, a store, and some 30 workers’ residences. Charles later was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates, then to the Maryland Senate, and finally to the US House of Representatives. He died in 1912 in Muirkirk and was buried in St. Johns cemetery.

Upon the death of Charles Coffin, his son Ellery took over management of the Muirkirk Iron Works and ran it until 1920, when it was closed. A Coffin family home still stands at 4931 Powder Mill Road, not far from St. Johns Cemetery. The home was built in 1885 by Dr. Charles Fox, the village doctor for Beltsville until his death in November 1915.

After the Civil War, many of the workers at Muirkirk Iron Works were freedmen. In 1868, three-tenths of an acre of land was purchased by Thomas Queen, Thomas Matthews, Ferdinand Key, James Powell, Knotley Johnson, and Henry Edwards for the purpose of building a place of worship and school for the “colored people” of Muirkirk on land that was the site of a pre-Civil War cemetery. The chapel was named after Thomas Queen. Some 20 years later, Augustus Ross, a Muirkirk ironworker, purchased land one mile east of the furnace and built a two-story home. Other ironworkers did the same, and a community was established around the focal point of Queen’s Chapel. The community was named Rossville.

Today, the actual site of the furnace is obscured by a complex of buildings and the Muirkirk MARC Train Station.

The iron pits became a treasure trove of dinosaur fossils, including one from a dinosaur named Astrodon johnstoni, discovered in 1858. It was named the Maryland State Dinosaur in 1998. Visit Dinosaur Park, in the 13200 block of Mid-Atlantic Avenue, Laurel, for more information on dinosaurs that roamed this area 115 million years ago.

Most of the information presented in this article was taken from items available on the Internet. To know more about Mr. Ted Ladd, go to

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