On April 21, 2018 I joined the Natural History Society of Maryland (NHSM) on a hike to find the ruins of an 18th century iron furnace about 15 miles drive from my home. Our guide told us of the enormously wealthy Ridgely family, who use slaves and indentured servants to run the furnace, producing first household iron products, then later cannons and cannon balls during the Revolutionary War.
We found the furnace, crumbling and mostly submerged in Loch Raven Reservoir. During its operation, workers stripped thousands and thousands of acres of trees--an acre per day--to fuel the furnace. I could sense only the horror of human misery and environmental destruction that must have enshrouded this place nearly 250 years ago.
The Ridgeleys had another iron forge, the guide told us. There, slaves and indentured servants made iron rods and battleship parts, then sent them down the Gunpowder River to the Chesapeake Bay. This was about 15 miles away in an area that was called "The Long Calm".
That is how I found out why the road I live on is called Forge Road.
That historical marker is a stone's throw from my house, and the crumbling stone wall in the forest that I pass with my dog almost every day is part of the industrial complex around several iron forges. I bought this house a year ago, and still had no idea of the significance of this place...I certainly did not know that it would be in any way connected to this guided hike.
Years ago, I toured the Ridgely mansion, not far from where I went hiking with NHSM. It is an immaculately maintained and lavishly furnished museum now, with lovely grounds and with oil paintings of generations of the wealthy family on the walls. Here, the years of the iron forges were a peak of wealth and prosperity.
Most of us don't exactly live in awareness that anthropology is our part of natural history. We are used to separating ourselves from nature, often with a sense of superiority. In that superiority we lose our sense of kinship with other life on this planet, at the same time forgetting that the advantage we enjoy as human animals comes with a higher responsibility. Looking at the crumbling ruins of the forges, I think we are still choosing to forget.