William Kelly was one of the first to discover the process of sending blasts of air through molten iron. Kelly did received an American Patent in 1857 for what was called “Kelly’s Air Boiling Process” for refining iron. Later he concentrated his efforts on another business, the manufacture of steel. That eventually led to the manufacture of axes with the primary principal being William’s son, William C. Kelly.
In 1896 the company moved from Eddyville, KY and built a factory in Alexandria, Indiana and in 1897 all the operations relocated to that city. One of the major reasons for relocating was the supposedly abundant supply of natural gas. The management had such faith in the continuance of the company that they even relocated most of their experienced work force to Alexandria. They soon learned that the supply of natural gas was running out.
The company remained in Alexandria until 1904 when they again relocated; that time to Charleston, West Virginia. Part of the justification for the move was a more promising supply of natural gas which had become the company’s major fuel used in the axe making factories. As mentioned, it was discovered that the reserves thought to be available in Alexandria were not sufficient for their long range purposes. The Charleston move again involved the relocating of significant numbers of Kelly’s experienced workers to the new location.
Remnants of the old factory can still be seen in the location just west of State Road 9, north of town. As you travel throughout town, you will still see many of the old Kelly Axe grinding stones in the yards of residences. On the front lawn of the museum is one of these grinding stones from Kelly Axe.