Iron Heart Winery could have been named something simple and straight forward that reflected its ownership or history like “Allisonia Abode” or “Old Iron.” However, neither of those tells a story about the incredible characters in the property’s history or eludes to the drive needed to tackle the life-long endeavor that this project has become. The name Iron Heart was settled on because it has meaning and exemplifies the proprietors of current and past.
Dating back to 1782, entrepreneurs have seen the potential in the land that Fariss Farms now operates in Allisonia Va. It is this rich history that has inspired farm-stays (in historical cabins), a wedding and event venue, a commercial vineyard, and in the fall of 2016 the opening of Iron Heart Winery. To begin my story of how a mining industry, turned Iron Empire, turned vineyard and winery has evolved, let me say that it took traveling the world to realize the beauty, charm and history that lies beneath the ground where I took my first steps in the Appalachian Mountains. It is hard to define our farm’s history and intrigue in a short overview due to the numerous captivating facets that make it unique.
My father speaks of days-gone-by in our area but I didn’t pay attention to his reflections until later in life. Born in 1934, his accounts are from an era just after the collapse of the industrial giant just up the creek bend from where he and I both grew up. For most of my youth, I overlooked the remnants of Southwestern Virginia’s industrial revolution that drapes our farm. I remained oblivious to the amazing artifacts that reveal clues of an operation that started 134 years ago. However, as I helped my father renovate the buildings and eventually start a business on the property, I began to respect and love the history and its leading characters. Right beneath my feet, lay stories so remarkable that I would eventually think of them daily.
The one man that stands out when I recount our farm’s history is proprietor of Boom Furnace and founder of Reed Island Iron Co, William Reason Tipton 1844-1905. His story is worth telling and inspires me when our own business struggles to take flight. William Tipton, a red-headed, blue-eyed, fair-skinned man was born in 1844 as one of eleven children. Standing at 5’ 6 ½” and mild-mannered, Tipton was tough as nails. He served in the Confederate army from 1862-1865 where he caught pneumonia, was shot in the battle of Drewry’s Bluff, captured at Five-Forks and held as a prisoner of war until his release on June 20th, 1865. Tipton made it back home to the southwestern corner of present day Pulaski, VA where he started Reed Island Iron Co. in 1882. Tipton developed the operation into an entire town with hotels, mills, stores and more than 63 tenant houses. The company was sold to DP Graham and John Robinson then George Carter’s Virginia Iron Coal and Coke; Tipton continued to operate the Iron Furnace through all of the changes in ownership.
During his time as Superintendent, he survived another gunshot from disgruntled employee William Jones in 1891. The one page indictment of William Jones is a true suspense that shows Tipton’s character clearly! Tipton passed away in 1905 and shortly after, in 1906, the furnace burned but continued to limp along until it ceased operation in 1910. The local mining and iron smelting industry came to a close around the same time due to other macro-economic conditions. By all accounts, William Reason Tipton was a genuine man with great ambition that overcame tremendous hardship and heartache. It is hard to say what Boom Furnace may have continued on to be if it hadn’t lost its captain.
The Boom Furnace still stands today as a landmark in Allisonia. Although the days of Tipton’s iron industry have long since passed, the careful restoration and renovation of the Iron Complex structures (Furnace, Section Foreman’s House, Superintendent’s House, General Store, Corn Crib, Blacksmith’s shop, and Ore Scale House) have led to a renewed purpose in the property, as we have become more smitten with its history. Today, the properties used to provide guests with farm-stays (in historic cabins) and an event venue in an attempt to share the farm’s charm with visitors from around the world. We are pleased to announce that after more than 100 years after the closure of the Iron Complex, in the fall of 2016, Iron Heart Winery will open on site. The name attempts to capture portions of the property’s bountiful history and admirable traits of an amazing man in its past.
The story of the property seems to be eloquently stated in William Reason Tipton’s epitaph. “A good man gone. A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches. An honest man is the noble strength of God.” Our interpretation can be seen in our Winery’s name. An iron heart may outweigh one of gold!