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Sloss Furnace  in Birmingham  Alabama


Sloss Furnaces is a National Historic Landmark in Birmingham, Alabama in the United States. It was operated as a pig iron-producing blast furnace from 1882 to 1971. After closing it became one of the first industrial sites (and the only blast furnace) in the U.S. to be preserved for public use. In 1981 the furnaces were designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of the Interior.

The site currently serves as an interpretive museum of industry and hosts a nationally-recognized metal arts program. It also serves as a concert and festival venue. Current plans call for a $10 million program of accelerated restoration and construction of a new, larger visitor's center. The furnace site, along a wide strip of land reserved in Birmingham's original city plan for railroads and industry, is also part of a proposed linear park through downtown Birmingham. An annual Halloween haunted attraction called "Sloss Fright Furnace" is held at the site.


Colonel James Withers Sloss was one of the founders of Birmingham, helping to promote railroad development in Jones Valley, Alabama and participating in the Pratt Coke and Coal Company, one of the new city's first manufacturers. In 1880 he formed his own company, the Sloss Furnace Company, and began construction of Birmingham's first blast furnace on 50 acres (202,000 m˛) of land donated by the Elyton Land Company for industrial development. The engineer in charge of construction was Harry Hargreaves, a former student of the English inventor Thomas Whitwell. The two furnaces, of the Whitwell type, were 60 feet (18 m) tall and 18 feet (5.4 m) in diameter. The first blast was initiated in April 1882. 24,000 tons of high quality iron were produced in the first year. Sloss iron won a bronze medal at the Southern Exposition held in 1883 at Louisville, Kentucky.

In 1886 Sloss retired and sold the company to a group of investors who reorganized it in 1899 as the Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Company. New blowers were installed in 1902, new boilers in

1906 and 1914 and the furnaces completely rebuilt with modern equipment between 1927 and 1931. Through this aggressive campaign of modernization and expansion, including furnace and mining and quarrying operations all around Jefferson County Sloss-Sheffield became the second largest seller of pig-iron in the district and among the largest in the world. During this period the company built 48 small cottages for black workers near the downtown furnace — a community that became known as "Sloss Quarters" or just "the quarters".

In 1952, the Sloss Furnaces were acquired by the U.S. Pipe and Foundary Company, and sold nearly two decades later in 1969 to the Jim Walter Corp. The Birmingham area had been suffering from a serious air pollution problem during the 1950s and 1960s, due to the iron and steel industry there, and Federal legislation such as the U.S. Clean Air Act was causing the closure of older and out-of-date smelting works. Also, all of the iron ore in the Birmingham area had been used up, and more expensive foreign and out-of-state ore was feeding the blast furnaces.

The Jim Walter company closed the furnaces two years later, and then donated the property to the Alabama State Fair Authority for possible development as a museum of industry. The authority determined that redevelopment was not feasible and made plans to demolish the furnaces. Local preservationists formed the Sloss Furnace Association to lobby for preservation of this site, which is of central importance to the history of Birmingham. In 1976 the site was documented for the Historic American Engineering Record and its historic significance was detailed in a study commissioned by the city. Birmingham voters approved a $3.3 million bond issue in 1977 to preserve the site. This money went toward stabilization of the main structures and the construction of a visitor's center and the establishment of a metal arts program.

Preservation and restoration work continues at Sloss and funds are being raised for a major expansion of the interpretive facilities in a new visitor's center. The site is proposed to become part of a linear park running east-west through downtown Birmingham along the route of the "Railroad Reservation", which was a strip of land zoned for industrial development in Birmingham's 1871 city plan.

In February 2009 Sloss became the new home of the SLSF 4018 steam locomotive, which was relocated from Birmingham's Fair Park.

Present use

Sloss is currently used to hold metal arts classes, a barbecue cookoff, Muse of Fire shows, and concerts. Being a reportedly haunted location, it is also an annual Halloween haunted attraction.


© John R. Taylor

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