This historical site on which the Illinois Furnace is located was purchased from the federal government in 1831 by Benjamin White of Gallatin County, but it was Chalon Guard and his older brother Timothy that actually built the furnace. The furnace was built about 1837, but it was rebuilt and enlarged in 1856, and Chalon Guard continued operations until 1861. Eventually, the extended Guard family, along with White’s original purchase, managed to acquire a minimum of 2,132.5 acres of land to be used in the operation and manufacture of iron at the furnace. The Illinois Iron Furnace was 32 feet in height. The outer walls were manufactured of large limestone blocks quarried from the area around Cave-in-Rock, IL. The interior wall or lining was manufactured of fire brick from Pennsylvania, and the space between the two walls was filled with sandstone rubble. The “blast” was supplied by a pair of bellows which were powered by a waterwheel at first, and then by steam. The waterwheel was originally powered from a channel from Big Creek. The blast entered the hearth on east side, while the iron was drawn from the opposite side (west) and the slag from the south side, while the fourth side was closed.
The operation of the iron furnace was a complex operation. Three elements were necessary for the manufacture of iron; ore, charcoal as fuel, and limestone which was the fluxing agent that separated the non-iron material from the ore and removed it from the molten metal. The buildings that surrounded the furnace included a variety of drying sheds for the charcoal, ore and limestone, a covered wooden bridge used for loading the furnace from the top, barns for the oxen and mules, and a large building used as an office, post office and hotel for employees, family, visitors and travelers. A truck garden was located near the office, and a wide variety of houses for employees and a general store across from the hotel. This community was known as the Illinois Iron Furnace village and was said to have been home to about 100 workers and their families. Located along Big Creek in extreme southeastern Illinois, the Illinois Iron Furnace Recreation Area is an outstanding picnic area. There are 10 picnic tables located near the actual Iron Furnace along with a small picnic shelter. It has been a popular gathering place for Hardin County natives for decades, and continues to draw new visitors interested in local history.