Sunday, May 15, 2022

Thaddeus Stevens Chronicles No. 17

 Thaddeus Stevens's former iron works needs your help

May 2022

By Ross Hetrick

Caledonia State Park near Chambersburg, PA, the site of Thaddeus Stevens's former iron works, needs your help.

Friends of Caledonia State Park, a volunteer group that supports the park's operation,  is in dire need of new members.  Because of the pandemic and aging participants, the ranks of the group has been whittled down to only a handful. They need new blood and if you can spare the time to help, please contact the Friends at or call 717-347-8159.

One of the group's largest projects is a craft fair held every July, which features a wide variety of hand crafted products. Unfortunately, it has not been held for the last two years because of the pandemic. But it will be back this July 9 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. With money from the fair, along with selling firewood and ice, the Friends group is able to pay for park improvements and maintenance equipment.

The 1,000-acre park is an important part of Thaddeus Stevens's legacy. Every summer for the last 22 years the Stevens Society has staffed the park's blacksmith shop on the weekends, introducing thousands of people to the importance of Thaddeus Stevens.

Started in 1837, the iron works consisted of 18,000 acres and employed 250 people. It had one of the largest number of black workers in the area and was a stop on the Underground Railroad.

However, it was not a good investment for Stevens. By 1842, Stevens was $200,000 in debt, the equivalent of millions in today's money, prompting Stevens to move from Gettysburg to Lancaster so he could make more money as a lawyer to pay down the debt.

Caledonia continued to lose money until the 1860s, but this brief period of prosperity ended in June 1863 when Confederate General Jubal Early on his way to the battle of Gettysburg burned down the iron works, costing Stevens $75,000 in damages.

But Stevens took it in stride, saying: "If finally, the government shall be reestablished over our whole territory and not a vestige of slavery left, I shall deem it a cheap purchase." 

Ross Hetrick is president of the Thaddeus Stevens Society, which is dedicated to promoting Stevens's important legacy. More information about the Great Commoner can be found at the society's website: