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.