By Ed Walsh
If you are visiting Alabama, be sure to visit Birmingham.
This city is unique.
It was founded in 1871 at the meeting point of four railroad lines. Since iron ore, coal and limestone could be found in abundance, the area became an industrial powerhouse and the city owes a lot of its history to the production of iron.
When you are in the area, visit Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark. It’s just four miles from the Red Mountain Expressway.
Sloss Furnaces were first fired up in 1882, 11 years after the city itself was founded. Visitors can see for themselves what drove the economy of Birmingham for over 90 years.
Check out the guided tours, which show visitors the Apron of the Furnace, the Stock Trestle and the Underground Railroad Line. Once a month, Sloss Furnaces demonstrates an iron pour and this too is open to the public.
Col. James Withers Sloss, founder of Sloss Furnaces, had been involved with railroads and actually brought the railway to Birmingham, changing what had been a shanty town of tents and boxcars into a thriving business community.
He wanted to take advantage of the area’s mineral abundance and soon opened a blast furnace company that mined pig iron.
That pig iron was sold to the northern states. Since pig iron sold for around $18.30 per ton in the north, while pig iron could be produced in the south for only $10-$11 per ton, it’s not hard to see how business quickly thrived.
Before long Birmingham was booming and became known as the “Magic City.”
The museum at Sloss displays webs of pipes, huge furnaces and the renowned smokestacks that loomed large over the city and helped create its identity.
The furnaces went on to make Birmingham the largest city in Alabama during the industrial era.
Although it closed in 1971, Sloss Furnace provided employment and a sense of identity for thousands of North Alabamians.
Sloss even has it’s own resident ghost if you believe in such things.
A former boss, named Slag, was so ruthless with his employees that he worked them into the ground ruthlessly.
It’s believed he was ‘dealt with” by his disgruntled employees by being pushed into one of the vats. It’s said he still haunts the area.
Thankfully he only comes out at night and the Sloss Furnaces are only open from 10am to 4-m Tuesday through Saturday and from noon to 4pm on Sunday. So you need not worry.