John H. Baker continued to require investments from others to support his various efforts to produce iron in Bullitt County, and he borrowed heavily from Louisville businessmen like Charles Quirey, James E. Tyler, Nathaniel Hardy and others. Additionally he seems to have neglected paying other debts, forcing his creditors to take him to court. In 1839 alone he was sued for debt in Bullitt Circuit Court nearly 40 times. And on 28 Feb 1840, he was required to mortgage almost all of his Bullitt County holdings to Quirey and Tyler to cover his debt to them of over $70,000.

No longer willing to trust Baker with the finances, Quirey and Tyler placed John Holsclaw in charge of the financial operation of the business but left control of the manufacturing end of the business in Baker’s hands because he was said to know more about the business than anyone else. In the agreement putting Holsclaw in charge are found several interesting facts. D. B. Whitman had leased the two blast furnaces. The lease payment was $5000 in pig iron delivered at the forge. He was also to bring the balance of his pig iron to the forge for which he would receive payment in bar iron. Any profits made at the forge would go to pay off Baker’s debts.

The extent to which slave labor supported this industry may be seen in the 1840 census. The census taker recorded a total of 70 individuals under Baker’s name, including 43 slaves. There were also an additional 23 white adult males listed who would have been working for Baker and living in shelters provided by him. Additionally, David B. Whitman was recorded with 83 slaves, mostly adult males, who labored for him at the furnaces.

However, the strain of the continuing recession, coupled with Baker’s failure to satisfy his creditors, led them to sue him in Bullitt Circuit Court to salvage whatever they could out of the remaining property.

But it seems that Baker had at least one more trick up his sleeve. On 15 Jan 1845 he filed a deed in Bullitt County in which he acknowledged a marriage contract supposedly entered into on 9 Apr 1836, prior to his marriage to Nancy Brooking, in which he acknowledged that what she had received from Samuel Brooking belonged to her and her daughters by Brooking, and that he could not use any of it without her permission.

The deed further acknowledged that John had taken possession of Nancy’s estate for his own use, and without her permission, and that he should restore to her all of it which exceeded $10,000 in value.

To do so, in this deed he conveyed to her trustee the Crooked Creek Furnace tract and all the tools and implements there. In this way, he hoped to salvage what was likely the most valuable part of his Bullitt County holdings.

On 24 Jan 1845, three additional Baker deeds were recorded in Bullitt County. The first was to Quirey & Tyler, and deeded to them the forge tract and adjoining lands, and the Salt River furnace tract, formerly a part of the Walton patent. The second was to Nathaniel Hardy and deeded seven slaves to Hardy in lieu of Baker’s debt to him. And the third was from Quirey, Tyler, Hardy and Baker to Sterling Barner, trustee for Nancy Baker.

This last deed conveyed to Nancy Baker’s trustee a number of slaves, all the personal estate that Baker had mortgaged to Quirey & Tyler that he possessed at the Crooked Creek furnace, all the land he had purchased from the Collings family on which the Crooked Creek furnace stood, as well as the West and Railey tracts of 2000 and 5000 acres respectively, and the house and lot in Shepherdsville where the Bakers lived.

However, this did not settle Baker’s multiple obligations to others, and on 3 Apr 1845 he and Sterling Barner, as trustee for Baker’s wife, deeded the Collings tract including the Crooked Creek furnace, the Railey tract of 5000 acres, and the West tract of 2000 acres to Quirey & Tyler in exchange for their paying $1200 to John Pope to settle one Baker debt, $800 to Nancy Baker’s trustee, and assuming multiple other obligations including what Baker owed the Collings.

That same month, in a court case in Bullitt Circuit Court, the remainder of Baker’s holdings in the county were ordered sold to pay debts to Matthew Wilson and Frederic Travis. This was done by auction in October. By this time the Bakers had likely left the county and returned to Hart County where Nancy Baker still had some property.

Regarding the Bakers, according to Charles E. Whittle who wrote about them in the Edmonson News in 1962, upon leaving Bullitt County they arranged with Jesse Craddock of Hart County to exploit lands in Edmonson County still owned by Nancy Baker, whereupon they built a furnace and other iron works there in 1846 (or thereabouts) which continued in operation until about 1850. According to Whittle, Dr. Baker was “said to have been irascible, over-bearing, and a hard taskmaster ... and was often engaged in bickering and litigation with his neighbors.” Baker’s life ended in 1866 when an unknown assassin shot and killed him in his front yard. Nancy and her children then moved to Kansas.

When Quirey & Tyler had all the property firmly in their hands, they petitioned the General Assembly for authority to incorporate the Shepherdsville Iron Manufacturing Company which was approved by the legislature in February 1847. The incorporators included Nathaniel Hardy, Duncan Mauzey, David B. Whitman, Charles Quirey, and James E. Tyler.

The next month, Quirey and Tyler deeded over to the Shepherdsville Iron Manufacturing Company all of their Bullitt County land and facilities in a deed dated 8 Mar 1847. By the end of the month, the company was advertising in Louisville papers that their iron works near Shepherdsville was engaged in the manufacture of iron, nails and castings, and that the company was “in perfect order and embraces two blast furnaces, capable of producing 2,500 tons of pig iron annually; about 12,000 acres of land abounding with ore and timber; two rolling mills (one propelled by water and the other by steam power,) one steam forge, a nail factory with 5 machines, and all the necessary buildings, such as warehouses, stores, dwellings for workmen, &c. The establishment is believed to be capable of producing $150,000 worth of manufactured iron, &c, annually, and the quality is well known to be unsurpassed.”

James E. Tyler was president of the company, and Nathaniel Hardy was appointed agent of the company, to handle the sales in Louisville. The advertisement also indicated that the company board wished to increase the capital stock to $100,000 and was looking for others wishing to invest in the company.

As positive as the advertisement sounded, these Louisville merchants were desperate to staunch the mounting debts and somehow recoup at least some of the money they had invested. It even drove Nathaniel Hardy to commit suicide in 1848. A decade later in a deposition, Tyler described the situation that led to Hardy’s death.

“Mr. Hardy was a merchant in Louisville of excellent standing, and, I believe, as honest a man as I ever knew. Under the delusive promises of John H. Baker, he made him large advances, and was finally compelled to purchase the stock, &c., of a furnace in Bullitt county. This he carried on for several years, at great loss, I believe, and finally caused him to suspend payment. After several years of subsequent pecuniary embarrassment, he was one morning reported missing, and his body was afterwards found in the Ohio river.”

The company continued to produce pig iron at the furnaces and process it at their Shepherdsville forge, but with the nation in recession the supply quickly outran the demand. In May 1850, they advertised that the company was turning its attention to the manufacture of pig iron and hollow ware exclusively, and were selling their entire stock 400,000 pounds of “charcoal iron” which was “well known to be superior to any other iron sold in this market.”

Thus it appears that the Shepherdsville forge ceased operation about that time. 

In January 1852, an advertisement announced a public sale of land by the company including the 450 acres. The forge tract of 150 acres was described as enclosed, in cultivation, with a good frame dwelling, stables and necessary out buildings with rich bottom land. The adjoining 50 acres was described as “embracing a valuable mill seat, being the site of the Shepherdsville Rolling Mill, a very desirable location for a grist and saw mill.” No mention was given of the forge itself.

It appears that there were no buyers for the 450 acres at that time, for the company still owned it when they sold it to A. H. Field in 1866.

Meanwhile, in November 1850, the company had sold four tracts to Emory Low, a Louisville dry goods merchant including half of the 7880 acres sold by John Pope and wife to John H. Baker and Thomas Joyce that included the Salt River furnace, 200 acres that included the Crooked Creek furnace, the 5000 acre Railey tract, and the 2000 acre Charles West tract. Not included was the 450 acres near Shepherdsville.

Mr. Low held the property for less than two months before selling it to Hugh Caldwell of Bullitt County and John Hunter of Wheeling, Virginia. Then they sold a quarter share to John C. Tarr of Brook County, Virginia. Caldwell, a former steamboat master, was apparently in charge of the day to day operations. It could be dangerous work, and in January 1852 the Louisville Daily Courier reported that Caldwell had lost an arm by being caught in the machinery at Crooked Creek.

In October 1853, John Hunter sold his share of these tracts to William Patterson of Greenup County, Kentucky. Patterson, an Irishman, was well familiar with the iron industry that was flourishing in that area, including across the Ohio River in Ironton, Ohio, and he wasted no time in advertising in a local Ironton newspaper for workers at the Crooked Creek Furnace including ore diggers and colliers, a name given to skilled charcoal makers. He offered to pay “most liberal wages” for “sober, moral and industrious men” for whom he planned to provide good dwellings and a school for their children.

By a year later, Patterson had obtained Caldwell and Tarr’s shares of the land. About that time a correspondent to the Louisville Daily Courier visited the furnace community, now called Belmont Furnace, and wrote the following.

“The present company purchased the furnace grounds about a year ago, since which time a most radical improvement in the appearance of things has taken place. The few poor, miserable log huts designed for workmen, which formerly occupied prominent positions, have all been leveled to the ground, and their places supplied with neat and handsome frame buildings, two stories high. The arrangement of the different houses is such, together with the church, school house, store house, furnace buildings, &c, as to present to the eye of the beholder the appearance of a thriving country village. The inhabitants in the furnace ground number upwards of 300 souls, 100 of whom are stout, able-bodied men variously engaged at work about the furnace. To such of the buildings which are occupied by the families of those employed at the furnace is attached about an acre of land, or as much more as they will cultivate, which, with the house, is furnished them free of expense so long as they remain in the employ of the company.”

Patterson had been joined in ownership by the proprietors of the Belmont Furnace at Wheeling (now West Virginia) and others, but it was Patterson who ran the Bullitt County operation. The older Salt River Furnace had been closed down, and work was concentrated at Crooked Creek and at the Nelson Furnace in Nelson County.

By 1856, the fledgling Louisville & Nashville Railroad was carrying freight and passengers from Louisville to a point opposite the Belmont Furnace, making it possible for the furnace operators to more easily get their product to market.

During the Civil War, the furnaces were active in producing iron for the war effort. At its end in 1865, the current owners sold out to a New York merchant named Junius B. Alexander who kept Patterson on to run the Belmont operation. But time was running out. The last iron was produced there around 1870, and after that Alexander proceeded to sell off the land.

Like the salt industry before it, the iron industry faded into obscurity, with only the Belmont Furnace left to remind us of its passing.