SCRANTON - When William Henry came to the area in 1839 and saw Roaring Brook and the embankment where the Scranton Iron Furnaces now sit, he saw an opportunity.
“Early on there was this connection between nature and industry,” said Chester Kulesa, site administrator of the Anthracite Heritage Museum and Scranton Iron Furnaces.
The Arts on Fire Festival, now in its fourth year at the furnaces, 159 Cedar Ave., Scranton, has rekindled that connection. The three-day festival opens tonight and combines the efforts of area artisans, industrial artists, musicians and more.
“It’s something that’s grown every year, and we seem to have more and more people interested in it,” he said. “It’s exciting to see it grow.”
Things kick off at 7:45 tonight with a parade from Lackawanna Avenue in downtown Scranton to the Iron Furnaces. The festivities continue until 11 p.m. and include live iron pours with Keystone Iron Works, music from the Coal Town Rounders and a variety of refreshments available to purchase.
Tickets for the “Fire at the Furnace” event tonight are $20, and proceeds benefit the Anthracite Heritage Museum and Iron Furnace Associates, the non-profit community support group behind the local historic attractions.
The furnaces operated from the 1840s to 1902, and Friday’s nighttime iron pour will recall a bit of that bygone era.
“If you were looking from South Scranton over towards the furnaces, you would see this glow at night because the furnaces operated around the clock,” Kulesa said of the furnaces’ heyday.
Saturday and Sunday will include “ring of fire” demonstrations at 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. by the Steamtown National Historic Site. The process by which a strap of steel was lit on fire and fitted to a locomotive wheel was a hit in 2012.
“We did that last year, and it was so popular with people that we decided we had to do it again,” Kulesa said.
Other events include ongoing glass-blowing demonstrations Saturday; live music from acts such as the Jim and Sara duo, John Quinn and Asia Lena, Friend of the Gypsy, the Smith Brothers, and Invisible Swordsmen through Sunday; and a performance by Symmetry Dance Sunday morning.
Artist Jared Jaffe will conduct raku clay demos throughout the weekend. Children’s activities include a sandstone scratch tile workshop that allows young artists to have their pieces cast in iron by Keystone Iron Works. Children’s tiles are $2, and there is a $5 cost for adults.
An enviroscape presentation from the Lackawanna River Corridor Association, a basket raffle to benefit the Anthracite Heritage Museum and Iron Furnaces Associates, blacksmith demonstrations, iron pours and an artist’s marketplace showcasing handcrafted goods round out the event.
The festival has helped remind residents of the role iron-making played in Scranton’s early history.
“I think it’s interesting for Scranton, which actually started as an iron-making community. The anthracite (coal) was the fuel for that, and the product they were making was the T-rails for the railroads,” Kulesa said of the link among the city’s three past industries.
In the book “Urban Capitalists,” author Burton Folsom wrote that America’s industrial revolution in coal and iron began in Scranton, Kulesa said.
“It made me think about this festival and what we do with the iron furnaces. We’re trying to keep that memory alive and that history alive.”