Bog ore is the answer to the fifth question in the Suffield Trivia Contest located in the February issue of The Observer. The question was, “Suffield had a mineral found in swamps that was very useful. What was it?” Bog ore (or bog iron) was widely sought in colonial America. It was smelted and made into iron.
According to Robert Alcorn in his book, The Biography of a Town, bog ore was found in the low area between Sheldon Street and North Grand Street in what was known as the Pancake Swamp. The formations of bog ore looked like pancakes, hence the name.
The conditions necessary for bog ore are many. Streams need to carry dissolved iron from high areas to flat areas which contain stagnant pools of water. Anaerobic bacteria created in nearby rotting vegetation produce low concentrations of tannic acid, which concentrates the iron. A visible presence of this process is an iridescent oily film on top of the water. It is a sure indication that bog ore is being formed. Another indication is the presence of rusty stones or reddish water.
Iron smelting from bog ore was invented during the Iron Age. Most Viking metal was made from it. A major source of bog ore is the peat bogs in Europe. A bog ore hunter, an actual career title in Viking times, would pull back a layer of peat. Underneath it, pea-sized nodules of bog ore can be found and harvested. And harvested again and again. It takes only twenty years, or a generation, to form bog ore if the area remains undisturbed. Using a thin metal rod is a good way to find bog ore buried in the ground, invisible to the eye. Unfortunately for the bog ore hunter, it is back-breaking work.
Colonel John Pynchon, the founder of Suffield, Joseph Parsons of Northampton and John Eliot of Windsor founded an iron works in Suffield in 1701, later known as the Eliot Iron Works. Between the years 1718 and 1738, the Eliot Iron Works processed 538 tons of iron. That’s a lot of bog ore. The iron was formed into bars of fifty pounds each and sold to makers of door hinges, latches and other iron items. Later on, the iron works manufactured shovels. The Iron Works was located on the bank of Stony Brook on Boston Neck Road at the foot of the hill leading to East Street. It was in business for a century, until 1801, when the so-called Johnson Flood destroyed it. Two other iron works were established in town, both on Stony Brook: one in 1721 near the lower end of High Street (now Main Street), in business until 1770. The other was built near the Simsbury line (in our time, the East Granby line) at Stony Brook Falls in 1722. It principally manufactured nails. In 1725, iron became legal tender except in the case of the minister’s pay.