Haute-Marne's metallurgical heritage

Metallurgic Park © T.Joly
An important metallurgical centre since centuries, the Haute-Marne department now has a museum entirely devoted to this activity. Named Metallurgic Park it evokes both the past and the present.

[ Practical ]

Getting there
- By road
260 km from Paris on autoroute A5 till Troyes, then on D660, D610 and D960 till Brienne-le-Château, then on D396 till Dommartin-le-Franc.
- By train
TER from Paris Gare de l’Est to Saint Dizier. The journey takes around 2 h 15 mn. Rental car or taxi from Saint Dizier to Dommartin-le-Franc.
Getting around
It’s necessary to have a car.
- Hotels
All Seasons, in Saint-Dizier (29 km)
Ibis, in Saint-Dizier (29 km)
Hotel du Soleil d’Or, in Joinville (15 km)
La Source Bleue, in Gudmont-Villiers (20 km)
- Bed and Breakfast
Joie de Vivre, in Doulevant-le-Château (7;5 km)
Les Nénuphars, in Bailly-aux-Forges (6.5 km)
Le Relais du Blaiseron, in Louvemont (18 km)
Hotel du Soleil d’Or, in Joinville (15 km)
La Source Bleue, in Gudmont-Villiers (20 km)
Ferme Auberge des Gourmandises, in Daillancourt (17 km)
Metallurgic Park
- Address
13 rue du Général Leclerc
52110 Dommartin-le-Franc
- 2015 Opening dates and hours
From March 27th to June 15th and from September 14th to November 22nd : Friday to Sunday from 2am to 6pm.
From June 16th to September 13th and during school holidays : Tuesday to Sunday from 2pm to 6.30pm.
Closed on Bank holidays
- Admission fee
€8 / €5. Free for under 16s.
- Haute-Marne Tourist Office
Tel : 0325303900
- Metallurgic Park
Tel : 0325040707
A rural department half covered by forests where the largest town, Chaumont, counts less than 25 000 inhabitants, the Haute-Marne doesn’t look like an industrial region.
Yet, it’s there, that the peaceful Blaise Valley emerged as one of France’s leading iron making regions from the 12th century. Why ?... Because it boasted the three natural resources needed for this activity.

Blaise valley © T.Joly
 Industrial history
There were numerous ore deposits easy to reach and extract. Forests gave plenty of wood to make the charcoal used in blast furnaces. The river’s waters provided the essential power force to some stages of the process.
Since 2010, a museum named Metallurgic Park retraces this industrial history that successively led to the production of iron, cast iron and steel. It is located in Dommartin-le-Franc, near Wassy where Cistercian monks founded the first industrial ironworks in 1157.
It was soon followed by others and as early as the Middle Age a canal was dug parallel to the Blaise to ensure them regular water supply. Owned by the clergy or noble families, these ironworks acquired great fame from the 17th century and one of them was chosen to supply the palace of Versailles with chimney plates and water pipes.

Metallurgic Park © T.Joly
 Dozens of blast furnaces
In addition, the article on ironworks in Diderot’s Encyclopaedia took them as its example. The 19th century marked both the peak and the beginning of the decline of metallurgy in Haute-Marne. The Industrial Revolution indeed brought about a succession of changes in agriculture, industry and daily life that opened up new markets for iron products. The growing urbanization also created an increasing demand for decorative cast-iron products such as fountains, street lamps, palm leaf mouldings, door and window stills. Thus, by the middle of the 19th century there were twenty blast furnaces along the river’s forty km length and eighty-five in the whole department. They produced 90,000 tons of cast-iron per year representing about 15% of the national production. But, in 1850, a free trade treaty signed with England opened up French markets to British products and the local charcoal-based blast furnaces were not competitive with the British ones using cool or coke.

Metallurgic Park © T.Joly
 900 years of metallurgical activities
Moreover, ore deposits began to be exhausted and forests were over exploited. As a consequence, by 1914 only seven blast furnaces remained in activity. However, many metallurgical sites managed to survive by specialising in secondary transformation, in foundry work, in drop forging, in cutlery and surgical instruments production. Today metallurgy still represents the department’s leading employer totalling 10,000 workers in 225 firms producing mainly complex and intricate pieces for high technology sectors such as nuclear, oil, aeronautic and so on.
Bearing witness to these 900 years of metallurgical activities in Haute-Marne, Metallurgic Park is set up in a former factory that closed in the early 90s. The visit begins with the outside areas where are displayed some of the pieces recently produced by local companies. It’s there that iron ore was delivered by carts, stocked, crushed at the stamping mill and then cleaned in a washer.

Metallurgic Park © DR
 Decorative iron cast
Models and informative panels explained these operations as well as the charcoal making that took place near the forests where trees were cut down.
Inside, the main attraction is a blast furnace dating from 1834 and, thanks to sound and light effects, the visitors get the illusion it’s still working. As they watch what seems to be iron flowing into the crucible, a commentary explain what was the role of each worker : the master founder, the founder, the moulder, the charger.
Next door, the vast warehouse where charcoal was stocked has been turned into an exhibition room where scale models and documents evoke the metallurgical history of Haute-Marne, the development of ironworks in rural villages under the Monarchy, the life of these communities, the evolution of the jobs and techniques over the centuries. Besides, a large space is devoted to decorative iron cast.

Open-air mine in Poissons © T.Joly
 Former open-air mines
A speciality of the ironworks of Haute-Marne during the 19th century, this production is illustrated with pictures and a collection of original pieces including statues and a Wallace fountain. If you want to explore the surrounding area, several hiking trails give the possibility to stroll around the Blaise valley and to enjoy beautiful scenery while discovering the architectural heritage of the villages, mainly churches and wash houses, as well as various remains of the industrial past. Water reservoirs and the canal that are now a haven for fishermen. Houses built by metallurgic factories to house their workers. Sites from where iron ore was mined are also visible. The most impressive is situated near Poissons, about 20 km away and so more easily accessible by car or bicycle. Hills surrounding this village are indeed riddled with former open-air mines of all sizes and an observation platform allows tourists to overlook the deepest one.

Mars 21, 2015
Thierry Joly