Descendants of Wallace Scott McElwain

Generation No. 1

1.  WALLACE SCOTT2 MCELWAIN  (O.1) was born 1832 in Pittsfield, MA, and died 1883.  He married CORNELIA G. TOWNE.  She was born in NY State.




 The Cahaba Iron Works is the most historically significant place in Mountain Brook.    It is perhaps better known as the Irondale or McElwain Furnace and is familiar to the children in Shades Valley by the name of the "Old Cannon Ball Factory" although no cannon balls were ever produced there. This furnace went into production in 1864 under furnace master, Wallace S. McElwain.

McElwain, born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1632 and his wife, the former Cornelia G. Towne of New York State , had two daughters, Ida T. (Mrs. J.E. Hensley) and Alice B. (Mrs. Hubert J. Miller). McElwain trained to be a machinist, working for a while in a gun factory in New York, and later moving to Sandusky, Ohio where he worked in a foundry and machine shop.   His first daughter, Ida, was born in the latter place. At the instigation of his uncle, Walter L. Goodman, President of the Mississippi- Central Railroad he moved to Holly Springs, Mississippi in 1859. Goodman, a native of Ireland, at that time was overseeing construction of the railroad.   McElwain soon induced two men connected with the railroad, Wiley A.P. Jones and Capt. E.G. Barney, to join him in the foundry business under the name of Jones, McElwain and Company.  Jones, from North Carolina, was a grader with the railroad, and a man of financial substance. Capt. Barney, superintendant of the railroad and a native of New York, had even greater financial resources with a value of $36,100 in real property and $39,000 in personal property as listed in the 1860 Census.   Jones contributed enough lumber for construction of the work sheds, while Capt. Barney donated an old locomotive boiler he fished out of the Tallahatchie River.  McElwain, with his brains and New England ingenuity, fashioned a cupola out of the shell of the boiler and on completion of the shed was in business.

 With his uncle throwing orders his way when possible, it was not long before McElwain enlarged his works to include a pattern shop, foundry and blacksmith shop. Within 18 months from the time the plant went into production, business had increased to the point that when the call went out for bids for the beautiful and intricate iron work of the Moresque Building in the French Quarters of New Orleans, McElwain placed a bid and was selected over firms in Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Cincinnati and New Orleans.  For many years A plaque inscribed "Made by the Jones, McElwain, and Company Iron Foundry in Holly Springs, Mississippi" was attached to the building.   As a result of this distinction the Holly Springs firm soon received an increasing number of contracts from Mississippi, Louisiana, and Kentucky.  Many of the ante-bellum homes in Holly Springs today have porches accented by its delicate iron work, some have iron fences and gates surrounding their yards, and many of the family plots in the local cemetery are rimmed with graceful iron fences - each one seemingly different from any of the others.

 In 1860 McElwain acquired another partner, J.Howard Athey, Transportation Agent with the Mississippi-Central Railroad, who resided with the M. M. Merrell family in Holly Springs.  Athey purchased half of Jones' interest and business flourished. By the spring of 1861 as many as 200 men were employed in the foundry including an all-night work force.    McElwain and Merrell built their own machinery and designed all their patterns which they sent to other foundries in the state for completion.  That year McElwain received proposals from the Confederate government to convert the foundry into an armory for making small arms and cannons, with an advancement of $60,000 from the government with the delivery of 20,000 rifles and 10,000 muskets to begin in November.  This funding enabled him to enlarge the foundry with construction of a two-story building 200 feet long and 50 feet wide and a huge blacksmith shop with 30 forges, strip hammer and rolls for the manufacture of gun barrels, and gave the firm the further distinction of being the first armory to produce small arms for the Confederacy under contract.  The first guns manufactured were not too successfully executed as some of them were returned for repair - this more than likely the result of quick conversion.  The first gun made for the Confederacy, which had been returned for repair, is now on display in the Franklin County Museum in Holly Springs along with memorabilia of the "Rebel Armory", the name by which the furnace is most commonly known today.  Cornelia McElwain later related how she assisted from time to time in pouring the ladles of metal into the cannon moulds. 

 In 1862 things were not going well for the Confederacy in Mississippi, and McElwain knew that it was only a matter of time before the Union troops reached his section of the state. With his foundry producing arms for the Confederacy, it would be one of the major targets for destruction. On April 23, 1862 an Indenture was recorded in the Marshall County Courthouse whereas the Confederate States of- America paid Jones, McElwain & Co. $150,000 for all their property in Holly Springs together with all the Armory and foundry buildings and all improvements of any kind thereupon, all the machinery, tools, materials and effects of any kind which the parties owned and possessed in connection with the Armory and foundry.

 McElwain immediately began making plans to move operation to a safer locale.  On February 22, 1863, McElwain purchased his first piece of land in Jefferson County acquiring approximately 80 acres from Willis B. and Martha Eastis and started construction of the Cahaba Iron Works soon afterwards. Other land was purchased from John S. and Sarah D. Poole, Obediah W. and Susan C. Wood, and Henry Shackelford until the extent of his property reached 2,146 acres. This land included two detached sites on the Cahaba River and extended from present day Spring Valley, Westbury, and Cherokee Roads on the south to Red Mountain on the north; from as far west as Montrose Circle to near the eastern end of Brookwood Road.  Found on this land were rich deposits of coal and iron ore with a good supply of hard wood for making charcoal, within easy reach of limestone - all prerequisites for making pig iron. The ore for the furnace came from a mine near the eastern end of Red Mountain on land purchased from Obediah Wood.    This land is now bisected by Crestwood Boulevard. The land he actually mined probably is east of Baptist Montclair Hospital. At the time McElwain worked the ore, he harvested the lodes of "soft" ore located on the surface. The tramway from the mining site to the furnace most logically went along the route of Hagood Street directly to Leech Drive and down Leech Drive to cross Shades Creek at its interection with Furnace Branch - a distance of two to three miles.  Teams of oxen or mules hauled the empty cars to the mine entrance and, when filled, the cars rolled back down the tracks to the furnace under their own power. The stone used in construction of the furnace might have been quarried from the same site worked by Richard Bearden on Montclair Road opposite the entrance to the Hospital.

 A description of the furnace as found in Woodward's Alabama Blast Furnaces, states:   "The furnace was about 41' high and 10 1/2' in the bosh.    Its stack apparently differed slightly from others of that era in that it was constructed of heavy masonry at the base and of brick, banded with iron ties on the mantle." The site McElwain selected for construction was aptly suitable for the furnace with its mountain backdrop available on which to build the tramway to dump the iron ore, coal and limestone into the furnace, the level land at the bottom of the hillside for construction of the workshops, forges, and other necessary structures, and the adjacent Furnace Branch for providing steam power. 

This cold blast charcoal iron furnace went into production in Shades Valley early in 1864 - at first producing 6 to 7 tons of pig iron a day.  This was shipped by oxcart or mule team down the Montevallo-Trussville Road to Brock's Gap at the western end of Shades Mountain to connect with a terminal of the Selma, Dalton and Rome Railroad. Here workers loaded the pig iron on a train which carried it to the arsenal in Selma to be fashioned into munitions for the Confederate Army.    The Montevallo-Trussville Road went through Mountain Brook along the present-day route of Montevallo Road with some variations and then followed Hollywood Boulevard and Oxmoor Road further west past Shannon.   Brock's Gap is located near the Parkwood community on Highway 150.  

During this time many people were employed to man the furnace, work the mines, cut, haul, and fire the timber, to care for the many mules and oxen necessary in the daily operations of the furnaces, and to perform all the other jobs connected with the production of pig iron.  Most, possibly even all, of these workers were hired slaves, and after the war ended some of these "owners" sought to locate McElwain and collect the wages due them for services rendered.

 McElwain chose to build his furnace tucked away in a remote area of Jefferson County where he believed it would be safe from detection and destruction in the event northern troops invaded the valley.    However, when Wilson's Raiders eventually passed through Jefferson County in 1865, someone (probably scouts who came in advance of the troops with the express purpose of finding the furnaces) had done excellent ground work, because the location was known and Wilson dispatched his troops on a sweeping raid through the area in April 1865 and all the blast furnaces in the county were destroyed, including Red Mountain in Oxmoor and Tannehill on the southwestern boundary. Others outside the county  including Shelby and Bibb Furnaces - were among those leveled in the devastation. All of the wooden structures of these furnaces were burned and everything else that could be broken down was destroyed.  There is nothing to indicate a battle actually took place at the McElwain Furnace.   Most of the workers, with the exception of McElwain and Merrill, were slaves who undoubtedly welcomed the company of soldiers as saviors. 

 According to The Greenville Advocate, April 18, 1867, "the furnace had scarcely ceased its smouldering, after being   burnt by the Federal army when McElwain, with perseverance that animates and kindles the spirit of progression," started making     plans to get back in operation at the earliest possible moment. As soon as hostilities ceased he went to Cincinnati, Ohio and enlisted assistance from Abel D. Breed of the firm of Crane and Breed to whom he entered a Warranty Deed on all his property in Jefferson County on March 6, 1866.   With McElwain now serving as Superintendent of the plant, the furnace went back in operation in 1866.  The Advocate proclaimed that he fed about three thousand people in 1866, "a large number of whom would have been classed among the indigent, and thrown upon the charities of the people, but for the employment he gave" and encouraged other industries to use him as an example.   Three thousand people appears to be an extremely high figure, but in all probability he did give assistance in one form or another to many needy people at the end of the Civil War.    In addition, his commissary provided a more convenient location for the purchase of supplies for people in Shades Valley.  Prior to this it had been necessary for them to make the long trip over Red Mountain to Elyton, the closest place of any size, for the necessities in life.

 In July 1866 the Cahaba Iron Works paid $10.00 on the first Internal Revenue Service assessment list in our nation. This tax went into effect in 1865/66 to help reduce the debts incurred by the government in the Civil War.  At this time the closest post office to the furnace was called Rockville.     McElwain must have suffered a staggering financial loss on the destruction of his furnace, but he placed the valve of his property at $20,000 four years later on the 1870 Census.

 Ethel Armes in The Story of Coal and Iron in Alabama tells of the "Big Jim" whistle used when the plant  went back into operation. It was one of the biggest and loudest whistle ever made and it was blown in the morning and again in the evening to announce the beginning and ending of the work day. Some year later when Swedish sea captain, Charles l,inn, purchased the machinery of the furnace for use in the Linn Iron Works, "Big Jim" then became a part of Birmingham's history as it continued performing its role.

Like other young people in the county, Ida McElwain was sent to Elyton to receive her early education, where she and other students resided with merchant W. I. Wilson.  On the 1870 Census of Jefferson County, 0. McElwain, a 60 year old male, born in Massachusetts, resided with the family, and very likely was the father of Wallace.   Also residing with the family was H.D. Merrill, an associate in the furnace. Interestingly enough a study of all the other households in the RockvilIe District revealed that no one else listed an occupation that could be connected with a furnace, all men being classified as farmers or farm hands with the exception of a group of railroad laborers listed some distance away from the McElwains.

 In time the outlook for the furnace operations became disappointing for several reasons.  Other plants opened up in areas that were competitive, the price of iron fell and McElwain's health declined.    On May 16, 1871 Jefferson County Probate records show that Abel D. Breed and Martin H. Crane of Cincinnati, Ohio, Joseph D. Webster of Chicago, Wallace S. McElwain of Jefferson County and E.G. Barney of Selma, trading under the name of the Cahaba Iron Works, sold to James H. McKee of Philadelphia, James Thomas of Perryville, William R. Thomas and James W. Fuller of Calasaque, all from Pennsylvania with McKee, Thomas and Company, all of their property including coal, iron and timber land, the foundry, machine shop, machinery, blacksmith shops, stables, offices and buildings.      These men named their operation the Jefferson Iron Company.  The General Superintendent of the firm was James Thomas.   At the time this company started in operation, 'knowledgeable men were brought in from other sections of the country to work in the furnace.  They secured a Mr. Cartright connected with a firm in Ironton, Ohio, as founder and he brought other men trained in the business when he came. Others who came from the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania with James Thomas and his family were Asa Beers, George Cook, Thomas Pettit and family, Samuel Davis and family and Robert Stephens.  Stephens, experienced in the magnetic ore mines of New Jersey, became Forman of the ore mines.

 "Boss" McElwain (as he was fondly remembered by his associates] sold the last of his Jefferson County property on June 29, 1874 to A P. Cochrane of Louisville, Kentucky, and moved to oxford in Calhoun County, Alabama where he lived until late 1880.   Although daughter Alice's obituary indicated he worked at least for a while with the Selma, Rome and Dalton Railroad, on the 1880 Census McElwain was listed as an agent for the iron Works. This iron works probably was the Woodstock Iron Company located on a site 300 yards north of the ruins of the old Oxford Furnace which was also destroyed during the Civil War.  Samuel Noble, with Gen. Daniel Tyler as financial backer, formed the company in 1872 and in later years opened three other plants. Trained workers were hard to find and Noble's brother, James, went to Europe in an effort to find the right people to man the furnaces.  McElwain probably found the red carpet rolled out for him as men of his caliber were hard to find locally.  McElwain spent his final years in Chattanooga, Tennessee where 'he worked as a clerk with W. B. Lowe and W. A. L.  Kirk in Lowe's Foundry and Machine Co.    This firm manufactured parts for engines, cotton gins, pumps, blast furnace and mining machinery, steam boilers and many other pieces of machinery.      He died in Chattanooga in late 1882 or early 1883 of tuberculosis and was survived by his wife and two daughters. 

A home still stands in Mountain Brook that was at one time a vital part of the furnace complex, the commissary.  The actual date of construction of the home is unknown, but it is believed to be the oldest home left in Mountain Brook, dating back at least to the days of William Cummins.  Cummins was the original purchaser of the land from the Federal Government on February 7, 1849, which can be a clue to the approximate date of construction.   The home was originally a two-room log cabin with dog trot. One of these rooms has long since been removed and the house added on to over the years, but the other room survives and is the living room for Mrs. Edward Beaumont.  The exposed logs, now varnished, and a sample of old flooring kept for historical value, make this attractive room all the more interesting. Several years ago during a storm, strong winds knocked down an ancient oak tree in the yard damaging the siding outside the living room which had concealed the logs.  Mrs. Beaumont decided at that time to remove all the siding from the logs, something she had been wanting to do for some time. Today this interesting part of Mountain Brook's history is revealed for everyone to appreciate and enjoy.   Trying to analyze the situation that existed in 1863 when the land was purchased, it makes good sense to rationalize that the McElwain family moved into the house already on their property.     This was the only piece of property he owned at that time and with a house existing ori it within easy walking distance to the   location selected for the furnace, it must have been used as  their home at least until another could be constructed.

 Now, nearly all traces of McElwain's furnace in Shades Valley are gone although an occasional reminder can be seen. A trail leads from Stone River Road southwestwardly along Furnace Branch of Shades Creek to a towering stone wall built into the hillside that Iong ago supported part of the structure of the furnace complex.     Protruding in a mound of dirt left when developers changed the stream bed is a rusty beam which may be a part of the tramway, and from time to time, small pieces of metal or pieces of green, blue or lavender slag are washed clear by the rains.    But, for the most part, fern, wild flowers and moss now carpet the ground that once bustled with activity, and a feeling of tranquility and remoteness from civilization enters the souls of the people who venture down the path today. The site has nearly returned to its original state before civilization intruded in the valley.

To reach the site of the Cahaba Iron Works drive down old Leeds Road to its intersection with Old Leeds Lane, across the road from the Mountain Brook Country Club golf course.  Drive approximately one-half mile to Stone River Road and turn left. The City of Mountain Brook has provided parking spaces on the immediate right side of the road, and an historic marker indicates the path that leads to the old furnace site.  This site was donated to the Park and Recreation Board of Mountain Brook by the developers of Cherokee Bend in 1960.




2.                i.    IDA MAE3 MCELWAIN, b. December 09, 1869, Mississippi; d. April 07, 1955, Catoosa Co., GA.

                  ii.    ALICE B. MCELWAIN, m. HUBERT J. MILLER.



Generation No. 2


2.  IDA MAE3 MCELWAIN (WALLACE SCOTT2, O.1) was born December 09, 1869 in Mississippi, and died April 07, 1955 in Catoosa Co., GA.  She married JOSEPH B. HENSLEE April 01, 1890, son of HIRAM HENSLEE and SARAH STEWART.  He was born June 01, 1869 in Catoosa Co., GA, and died October 25, 1927 in Catoosa Co., GA.



3.                i.    ARTHUR MCELWAIN4 HENSLEE, b. June 1891.

                  ii.    ANNIE S. HENSLEE, b. June 1893; d. Catoosa Co., GA.



Buried in an unmarked grave in Anderson Cemetery.


4.              iii.    HIRAM E. HENSLEE, b. September 16, 1895; d. January 25, 1972, Atlanta, GA.

5.              iv.    LEWIS HENSLEE.

                 v.    BOB ALICE HENSLEE, b. September 11, 1900, Catoosa Co., GA; d. August 20, 1966, Catoosa Co., GA.



Buried at Anderson Cemetery.



Generation No. 3





                  i.    IDA MAE5 HENSLEE.


4.  HIRAM E.4 HENSLEE (IDA MAE3 MCELWAIN, WALLACE SCOTT2, O.1) was born September 16, 1895, and died January 25, 1972 in Atlanta, GA.


Children of HIRAM E. HENSLEE are:

                  i.    JOYCE MUNN5 HENSLEE.

                  ii.    HIRAM N, HENSLEE, JR.





Buried in an unmarked grave in Anderson Cemetery


Children of LEWIS HENSLEE are:

                  i.    LEWIS5 HENSLEE, JR.

                  ii.    JEAN HENSLEE.

Submitted by Linda Coulter