Steel museums offer bridge to the past

Jun 30, 2012 | 07:00 PM | Lisa Gordon

Tags  steel museums, Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park, The Steel Plant Museum, Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor, The Steelworks Museum of Industry and Culture, National Iron and Steel Heritage Museum, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Scranton Iron Furnaces Lisa Gordon

America loves its iron and steel, which is clearly illustrated by the continuous effort to preserve and honor the history and heritage of the industry throughout the nation.

There are museums dedicated to the metal scattered across the country to educate future generations on how molten iron runs through the nation’s veins. One has been established on a shoestring budget in a single room at a local historical center, while others are elaborate endeavors, with one even retaining world-renowned architect Michael Graves to design it.

Alabama is home to two museums. Sloss Furnaces, located in the heart of Birmingham, has been declared a National Historic Landmark, making it the only publicly owned industrial site in the country, according to its website. Visitors can stroll the premises at their leisure or book a one-hour guided tour of the blast furnace, which went cold in 1971. The site, which includes a tunnel that leads to a station along the Underground Railroad used by abolitionists to move slaves north, reportedly is haunted and has been the subject of numerous television shows that explore paranormal activity, including Fox’s Scariest Places on Earth. The museum not only hosts night tours of the furnace and outlying woods, but also offers birthday parties for children and wedding packages.

Also situated in Birmingham is the 1,500-acre Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park, which houses the Iron & Steel Museum of Alabama. The 13,000-square-foot museum features a timeline that spans from iron trading in ancient Egypt to U.S. Steel Corp.’s Fairfield Works. The museum has a cast iron exhibit and houses artifacts that were discovered on the site. An archaeological dig revealed that a bloomer foundry once existed where the pig iron furnace still stands. The furnace went out of commission after it was set on fire as a tactical move by northern troops in the Civil War, museum curator Jennifer Watts said.....

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