The Colebrook Furnace ghost story

5 min read806 views and 190 shares Posted October 25, 2019

While traveling in the Colebrook area, have you ever heard howling in the distance? Have you seen a pack of hounds that seem to vanish, apparitions in the night? Have you sensed a faint uneasiness, something amiss?

This may not be your first time hearing of the hounds of Colebrook Furnace. The ghost story has been around for years, though its first known documentation is in George H. Boker’s poem “The Legend of the Hounds.”

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Want to hear the legend in person? See here for details on an event scheduled for this Saturday.

“The Legend of the Hounds” Plot

The grisly story, also detailed by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, supposedly centers around the Colebrook Furnace’s first ironmaster, Samuel Jacobs.

According to the legend, Jacobs, a man who was cruel to his workers, had a valued pack of hunting dogs. The most valued was its leader, Flora, a mighty white dog who was endlessly loyal to her master.

“The Legend of the Hounds” describes Flora, printed in the Lancaster Intelligencer on March 24, 1886.

One day, after bragging about the skills of his hounds, Jacobs took them for a hunt to prove it. The dogs, however, seemed too tired to hunt, and eventually they failed to catch a fox that scampered right in front of them.

Jacobs was outraged at his hounds and commanded his huntsmen to take them to the Colebrook Furnace. He ordered the huntsmen to throw the dogs into the furnace.

While the men objected at first, they eventually complied. They threw every dog except Flora into the fire.

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The opening to Chapter 7 of “The Legend of the Hounds,” printed in the Lancaster Intelligencer.

Jacobs threw Flora into the fire himself.

For the rest of his life, Jacobs seemed troubled; talking to himself, distancing himself from others.

One day Jacobs claimed that he saw the hounds coming for him, Flora heading the pack, though his servants did not see anything. He died moments later.

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Many iterations of the legend claim that Flora and the hounds still roam Colebrook to this day, their ghostly howls still echoing.

The final chapter of “The Legend of the Hounds,” printed in the Lancaster Intelligencer. Although the story takes place in today’s Colebrook, the area was referred to back then as Cornwall, likely due to the close connections it held with the nearby furnace in Cornwall. Some also claim that the location was changed to Cornwall, England to “avoid offense.”
Colebrook is located a short distance from Cornwall.

History of the legend

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While the legend surrounding the Colebrook Furnace may have been around prior to the poem, as the Historical Society of Pennsylvania suggests, “The Legend of the Hounds” popularized the story.

Boker, born in Philadelphia, apparently based the poem on a story told to him by a Lebanon Valley native.

The poem was completed by Boker Feb. 9, 1867, according to the introduction of William Edwin Rudge’s 1929 republishing of the poem. However, it was first mentioned November of 1869.

The November 29, 1869, issue of the Reading Times discusses recent poem “The Legend of the Hounds.”

According to the this edition’s introduction, it was rumored that the Jacob’s descendants purchased and burned every copy of it they could find, following its initial release. This rumor is also noted in a 1929 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer discussing Rudge’s edition of “The Legend of the Hounds.”

The September 28, 1929 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes rumors of the destruction of the poem’s initial copies. It also notes that the poem was set in Cornwall, England, to avoid controversy, something also asserted within Rudge’s introduction.

Some speculation around the poem suggests that its subject may not have been Samuel Jacobs, but Robert Coleman himself. Some iterations of the local ghost story center around him rather than Jacobs. This may further suggest that the use of Cornwall was a misdirection of sorts, at once distancing the legend from Pennsylvania while also creating a mental connection between it and the Coleman-controlled Cornwall Furnace.

A passage from the February 6, 1930 issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer comments that many Lebanon Valley residents view the legend as being about Robert Coleman. This article also references Francis Rawle, a Philadelphia lawyer, who evidently believed that “there was no known fact in the Coleman family, to which he was related, that justified ‘The Legend of the Hounds.'”

The poem was later published in The iron industries of Lebanon County by Henry Grittinger, in 1904.

After being republished by Rudge in 1929 with an added introduction, the poem—and the legend itself—received little attention outside of the Lebanon Valley.

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However, the tale still circulates locally, particularly around Halloween. In fact, a reading of the poem is planned for Oct. 26 at the Pennsylvania Chautauqua.

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Read More: Pa. Chautauqua to host Colebrook historical event

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Historical accuracy

While little else is known about him, Samuel Jacobs was indeed the first manager of the Furnace, according to the National Register of Historic Places registration form for the Colebrook Iron Master’s House.

Jacobs was first hired in the 1790s and continued working at Colebrook until he died in 1819, the document says. It does not mention his cause of death, however.

This document also notes that Boker’s poem “is frequently the only reference to Colebrook Furnace that can be easily located,” so few historically reputable texts exist that provide additional information about Jacobs or the furnace’s history.

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Assertions that the legend is true and about Robert Coleman were denied vehemently by his relative Francis Rawle, as noted by the Philadelphia Inquirer. However, Rawle’s objections were made long after the legend would have taken place.

Regardless of what—if any—details of the legend are true, it undeniably has its place in Lebanon Valley folklore. It serves as an anchor to our history, reminding us of a time long since passed.

Read More: Historic society holds walking tour of “at risk” Colebrook Mill

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