Colonial New England was famed for its use of water power to drive the machinery in its mills. The potential energy that could be harnessed from flowing water was based on the steepness of the elevational drop in the streambed; the greater the drop, the more the potential power.
Iron making was one of the many industries to use water power. Iron ore was processed in a blast furnace and produced iron that could be formed into a wide variety of items necessary in 18th century America. It is from a former iron furnace on this site that the park draws its name. And this furnace was especially of value in the revolutionary war when it was a major supplier of horseshoes, a commodity greatly needed by the Continental Army. As times changed and the iron ore resource was exhausted, the need for and use of water power also changed. By the 1830s, this location was the site of a grist mill.
Through the years as local industry changed on the land, so too was there change in the ownership of the land. By 1909 the property owner, William Pike, made the decision to sell the location to the town of Killingly for a municipal park. Nine years after that, in 1918, Killingly sold the park property to the State of Connecticut which has since added more land to form the park we have today. And while explorers will find some remnants of the furnace operation still existing by the brook, many early features have been lost over the years to the landscaping that created the present park setting.
Today the park’s recreational landscape compliments the historic landscape of yesterday. One of Connecticut’s best short hiking trails is a case in point. Hikers may access the trail by crossing Furnace Brook opposite the picnic area and locating the light blue blazes on the trees. Any question of effort will prove worthwhile with the panorama from the rocky outcrops. The view, from 200 feet above the valley, is described by some as stunning, and encompasses Half Hill Pond (also known as Upper Ross Pond) in the immediate foreground and in the distance an unobscured view across eastern Killingly and beyond into Rhode Island. A lush mix of deciduous and coniferous tree cover surrounds the lowland wetlands and adds a special mix of vibrant color in the fall.