Let’s talk about slag

Let’s talk some about the slag found in the Cahaba Project!

Watch the video and read the historical information below about why slag can still be found today in the Cahaba Project.

The most significant addition to Trussville by 1870 during the Reconstruction era was the railroad, which reached Trussville in 1870. The Alabama and Chattanooga Railroad Company completed its 295-mile project from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Meridian, Mississippi, in 1870-1871. The railroad addition to Trussville meant more jobs for local residents. 

The trains that passed through brought regular mail, freight shipments and passengers from the eastern United States. It also meant more industry in the 1880s. On December 21, 1886, the Birmingham Furnace and Manufacturing Company was incorporated by a group of men from Uniontown, Pennsylvania. The first land company was the Trussville and Cahaba River Land Company, which incorporated on March 19, 1887. That same year, a tract of land was purchased from the Trussville and Cahaba River Land Company, and construction of a furnace began. A large portion of the furnace built that year came from material from the dismantled Lemont Furnace in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. The furnace was located on the land where the historic school on Parkway Drive is now located. The finished stack, 65 feet high and 17 1/2 feet in the wash, was blown in at noon on April 8, 1889. Prior to the sale, the Louisville and Nashville Railroad built a line of tracks to serve the furnace’s needs. A special train left the union depot in Birmingham at 10:15 a.m. to celebrate the opening of the furnace. Among the prominent individuals on board were Superintendent William Newhold, Assistant Superintendent B.F. Dickson, Louisville and Nashville Railroad General Ticket Agent C.B. Compton, Birmingham Furnace and Manufacturing Company Secretary and Treasurer R.D. Smith, and many others. On April 13, 1889, it was reported that the furnace was turning out a good quality of iron and the company’s officers were very pleased with the results. The furnace remained in blast until the middle of 1893, when it was blown out due to the diminishing demand for pig iron.

Slag found behind the Trussville Public Library (photo by Gary Lloyd)

In late 1896, the furnace was put back in blast under the Trussville Furnace Company, but operated only a few months before being blown out again. The main difficulty of the furnace was the high cost of raw material transportation. Red hematite was mined within a few miles of the furnace but not in sufficient quantity to satisfy the operation’s needs. Additional ore was brought from the Birmingham and Bessemer districts to supplement the local supply, brown hematite was brought from Bartow and Oremont, Georgia, and coke was secured from Birmingham.

The Trussville Furnace, Mining and Manufacturing Company took over the furnace property on September 1, 1899. The incorporators were local men Henry W. Perry, Tunstall B. Perry and Robert D. Smith. It was not put in blast until 1901, and only operated a few months. On July 10, 1902, the furnace property was purchased by the Lacey Buek Iron Company. The furnace was rebuilt and beehive coke ovens were introduced. The stalk was expanded to 80 feet from 65 feet, and the wash was widened to 22 1/2 feet from 17 1/2 feet. It was blown in during 1903 and christened the “Ella.” The furnace operated under this company until it was acquired on July 1, 1906, by the Southern Steel Company, which rebuilt the furnace but did not enlarge it. By this time, it was rated at 72,000 tons annually, up from 70,000 under Lacey Buek Iron Company. There were 212 workmans’ houses attached to the plant, and in 1907, the Southern Steel Company bankrupted. The Southern Iron and Steel Company acquired the furnace in 1909, but it was blown out in 1910. This company defaulted on its bonds in 1911 and the furnace was passed to the Michigan Trust Company.

A historic marker referencing the blast furnace sits just outside Cahaba Elementary School. (photo by Gary Lloyd)

The furnace remained idle between 1910 and 1917, when the Birmingham Trussville Iron Company was organized, taking control of the furnace. The furnace was blown in for the final time in the spring of 1918, operating until the spring of 1919. The furnace remained abandoned until its dismantling in 1933.

The stock market crash of October 29, 1929, and the ensuing Great Depression sent shockwaves throughout the United States and world. The Great Depression devastatingly affected rich and poor countries, cities and people. The presidential election of 1932, between Republican incumbent Herbert Hoover and Democratic nominee Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the beginning of change for the nation, and for Trussville. Roosevelt won the election largely due to his optimistic personality.

Roosevelt’s New Deal was a series of economic programs enacted between 1933 and 1936, focusing on relief, recovery and reform as part of progressing from the Great Depression. The programs centered on relief for the unemployed and poor, recovery of the economy and reform of the financial system to prevent another depression.

The property on which the furnace was located in the Cahaba Project was sold in 1935 to Birmingham Homestead Incorporated, a Federal Housing Administration project. In the time the furnace was idle, the site served as a prison camp, called Jefferson County Camp No. 3. It accommodated between 45 and 75 prisoners, who were primarily involved in road work in the county. All the prisoners were white, whose average prison term was just more than two years. Five apartments for prison guards were provided, and a blacksmith shop and barn were also parts of the prison. The prison camp was demolished in preparation for the Federal Housing Administration’s project, which became the Cahaba Project.

Published by Cahaba Heritage Homestead Foundation

Our mission is to support through education, outreach and civic involvement such things that promote, perpetuate and enhance the value of this community as a historic district designated on the National Register of Historic Places.

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