Rusty old ruin


Was this really our destination? Looking at the rusty towering ruins of the Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama I had that “Oh no…” sinking feeling. Daughter-in-law had suggested this as our first stop on the family spring break road trip. It didn’t look very enticing or interesting. Abandoned industrial architecture didn’t  immediately appeal.

How wrong I was.

This place is a National Historic Landmark which has been left pretty much as it was when it fell into disuse after years of heat, sweat and hard labour by the locals who worked there. Pig iron was produced and transported across the US via the adjacent railway, bringing wealth and prosperity to the town. Nowadays Birmingham is probably best known for its association with the Civil Rights movement, but it was founded on iron.

The entire site could be viewed as a mess and a hazard trap, or as a testament to days gone by, frozen in time, waiting to be explored. Mindful of the hazards (no Health and Safety regs as in the UK!) I found it both fascinating and photogenic. For my grandchildren it was a fun place to explore; they just experienced the site and didn’t need to read the info boards about how the iron was produced.

On a hilltop on the edge of town is a giant statue of Vulcan, the blacksmith of the gods, who worked with heat and metal, forming and sharpening the weapons of the gods on his anvil. An appropriate motif for the town, a nod to the myths and a reminder of the connection between steelworkers in Sheffield, UK.




4 thoughts on “Rusty old ruin

  1. Reblogged this on I can't believe it! and commented:
    The Sloss Museum in Birmingham (pron Burr-ming-HAM), Alabama provided a very good introduction to this historic US city that has only existed since 1871. The city grew because of the coming of railroads and the discovery of all the ingredients for casting iron in the vicinity.

    At its height Birmingam was a major US iron & steel producer, built on the backs of the hard labour of black workers. The museum preserves some of the industrial relics of those days. Very interesting to browse around, and extremely photogenic. The following reblog contains a few photographs.


  2. I worked in the U.K. steel industry for 13 years, from school, through university scholarship, then post university. I have a real affinity with such places and am constantly outraged that we dismantled so many of our steelworks that could have become museums. Last year we visited the Blists Hill area here and saw the original furnaces of Abraham Darby from the 1700s who revolutionised ironmaking. It’s on my blog under the England tab.


  3. Reblogged this on Tales From Mindful Travels and commented:
    2. Steel Archaeology
    The history of iron and steel making has been all but wiped out in Britain, but clearly not in America as this post from Joyce Hopewell about the Sloss Furnaces, Birmingham, Alabama clearly shows. It is a tragedy that some of our steelmaking industrial heritage hasn’t been better preserved to match that of the museums of steam, pottery, shipbuilding from the Victorian era. This article inspired me to pull together this short series on a little of the industrial archaeology of steelmaking. Tomorrow, “A Steel Revolution”.


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