There is an abundance of things to see and do right here in The Shoals, but as our travel series expands, so does our list of nearby attractions—nearby meaning within driving distance from The Factory. We’ve previously highlighted Birmingham, the city about 2 hours south of here that was built around the iron and steel industry. One of the metropolitan’s most iconic (and historical) landmarks is Sloss Furnaces.
The site, most commonly referred to as just ‘Sloss’, can be found on the outskirts of downtown Birmingham. It is hard to miss—the looming blast furnaces, boilers, factory buildings, and water tank will surely catch your eye.
The industrial boom that took place in Birmingham and the surrounding areas occurred in the years following the Civil War. Colonel James Withers Sloss was one of the entrepreneurs who helped found the city of Birmingham in 1871. At that time, our country was rebuilding itself and continuing to make connections across the land with railroads. Iron ore and coal deposits were plentiful in this area of central Alabama. As a railroad man, Colonel Sloss also played an important role in securing that the completed South and North rail line (built by L&N Railroad) pass through the burgeoning town. A decade later he established the Sloss Furnace Company, and in the spring of 1882, the furnaces went into blast, producing thousands of tons of pig iron.
Colonel Sloss retired and sold the company to a group of financiers in 1886, and over the next few decades the company (now known as Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron) experienced rapid growth and expansion. By the First World War, it was the one of the largest producers of pig iron in the world. The onset of World War II broadened the market for iron and steel, and in turn, created jobs for the Birmingham area labor force.
The furnaces went through many updates over the years—and though nothing remains of the original furnace site, the oldest building on the site was constructed in 1902. Sloss shuttered production in 1971 and remained a sort of industrial graveyard until it reopened its doors in 1983 as a museum and historical landmark.
Most folks know other stories about Sloss Furnaces—a darker sort of history. It could be a dangerous place to work, and many laborers died on site. Even more were gravely injured. It is believed by some that these lost souls haunt the factory grounds—earning Sloss the reputation as one of the most haunted places in America. The tales have proved so eerie and compelling that the furnaces have been featured on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures as well as the SyFy network’s Ghost Hunters. Sloss Furnaces even hosts a haunted adventure experience each Halloween.
Sloss Furnaces also offers a wide range of events throughout the year, including tours, concerts, festivals, and workshops. You can learn a new skill (or perfect your craft) at one of the many on-site public workshops. Subjects range from blacksmithing and welding, to cast iron sculpture and casting. So, the next time you find yourself traveling through Birmingham, sign up for a class and/or tour the historic facilities.
Visit Sloss Furnaces:
20 32nd Street North
Birmingham, AL 35222
Find more information on workshops here.
P.S. If you can’t make the trip, or just want to learn more, we recommend the Alabama Public Television documentary Sloss: Industry to Art. View it here.