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Sloss Furnace: A Blast From the Past

The earth birthed the city Birmingham, Alabama, back in the age of manufacturing when men slaved and sweated in the furnaces and their bosses grew wealthy. Jones Valley was rich in iron ore, coal, and limestone, the elements for making iron, and Birmingham became the major industrial center in the southern US. Its population grew so rapidly from 1881 to 1920, that it became known as the Magic City.

Sloss Furnace, consisting of two 2400 ton blast furnaces and a collection of 40 other buildings, is silent now, echoing with specters of the past. Birmingham is no longer noted for its industry but for its world class medical facilities. However, when I was a child, Sloss was still a working furnace, and I remember looking down into it from a highway overpass. One could see the fires and lava-like streams. I always thought it looked like the entrance to Hell.

Old Sloss is now a national landmark, and its facilities are used for festivals, concerts, metal workshops and art exhibitions. It is open throughout the year to tourists, and self guided tours are free. Earlier this year my family walked through the behemoth. I wasn't interested in the process of making iron; I was prepared to be bored. However, the sculptural qualities of the buildings amazed me. The workmanship is both age-old and futuristic. You may wonder why I am posting this on my garden blog, but Sloss is the epitome of man's harness of nature, so there is a connection!

Here are a few of the photos I took. I hope you see some of the fascinating details I marveled over in person.

Sloss was a dangerous place to work, and men died here. There are tales that it is haunted. By this guy?No, that is my husband!

By this guy?Definitely! At Halloween, it doesn't take much to turn Sloss into Birmingham's best haunted house.

Look below and you will find some garden tools, though I doubt they were used for planting marigolds!Sometimes it's hard to tell what is original to Sloss and what is more recently added sculpture:

The same day we visited Sloss we also visited Vulcan, the world's largest cast iron statue. Vulcan is the Roman god of fire and the forge, and the statue was Birmingham's entry in 1904's world's fair in St. Louis. Today Vulcan overlooks Birmingham from his perch high on Red Mountain, so named because of its iron ore. Using a telephoto setting, I took this post's first photo of Sloss from an observation deck located just below Vulcan's feet.

Vulcan stands with his hammer and anvil and holds a spearpoint. While an apron covers his front, his backside is sometimes the butt of jokes, especially by those who live in the genteel community directly behind him. Ahem!

And that, I think, is a good end to this post!

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Reader Comments (16)

I have this thing for photos of rusty machinery, and apparently you do too...great shots.


Oh, yes, that was a little spooky! I was thinking that would be a great place to visit at Halloween time. Always fun to learn about a new place.

June 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPlantPostings

A garden of iron sculpture!

June 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeannine

Fascinating looking place, wouldn't mind touring it if ever we find ourselves in Birmingham (Alabama that is) :)

June 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

I can't imagine the jokes about the wind in that part of the city... Anyway I think this Vulcan is pretty big headed, ain't he?!
I love the pictures about old and rusty industrial machinery and facilities, I tried to imagine the lava flowing from big containers, it had to be magnificent.
And you had me laughing when you doubted those gardening tools had been used to plant marigolds...

June 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlberto

Hi Deb....there is art all around us if we just look. I bet this place IS really scary at Halloween....great party place! The statue is interesting...I wonder if the sculptor really thought Vulcan had an extra large head of if the statue just came out this way?

June 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristy

Great images, old factories etc. with heavy rusted machinery are beautiful when viewed now but must have been hell when. They were working. Christina

June 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

This reminds me very much of the old steel mills on the East Side of Chicago and adjoining parts of NW Indiana. It used to be you would drive into Chicago on the Skyway and see the fires and smell the mills. If you parked your car in that area it would soon be covered with a layer of dust. People thought that clean air was a bad sign, it meant the mills had laid workers off. We still have a steel industry, but it is a vestige of its former self. Interesting post.

June 6, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterjason

Very striking photos. I am always interested in seeing new places whether garden related or not.

You make an abandoned factory look like an art installation. You are very artistic.

June 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDenise

Hi Deb.. This very interesting... At first I wondered what sloss was... Then I realized these were iron furnaces... Pretty amazing stuff! Thanks for visiting my site... My wife and I just returned from a plant purchasing exhibition and we got some very interesting things.. I'll post on them eventually but the first task is to try and find room to plant them! It gets tougher all the time! Larry

June 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

I have seen Sloss on ghost hunter shows....but you have shown its beauty an art

Funny how times and cities change. It is good to see the factory is put to use where you could tour the grounds. I see the architectural interest too.

June 8, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

Love your excellent photos of this "historical" site. Terrific that it has been turned into a Haunted House at Halloween. Your photos have captured terrific architectural detail.

June 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAstrid

Great pictures and a welcome change from the garden stuff.

June 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlistair

What a fabulous peek into the past. It's amazing to think how much has changed in recent decades. I grew up in England, when coal mining, and industrial manufacturing, were still part of the everyday. It must have quite something to see that old furnace in operation. One of the things that always fascinates me when I look at photographs like these, is how brilliant the engineering was, at least for its day. No CAD programs to design these industrial marvels, no miracles of modern manufacturing, and yet each building, each machine, each gear system, or network of underground tunnels, still very impressive in both design and construction for its time. Thank you for sharing this glimpse into the past, I really enjoyed it!

June 12, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm
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