Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark

A light rain seeped from the undulating sea of cool grey cloud overhead as I arrived at Sloss Furnaces at the edge of downtown Birmingham, Alabama. After driving for over two hours, intent on photographing the site, the rain was an unwelcome companion for the morning’s shoot. The heavy air clung to me like a wet garment as I left my car and made my way through the sagging chain link fence and into the heart of what was once a thriving organ of industry, pumping a steady flow of iron from its furnaces to factories across the region.

Sloss Furnaces was founded in 1882 by Colonel James Withers Sloss, and quickly grew to become one of the largest suppliers of pig iron in the region. In 1899 it was reorganized as the Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Company and continued to operate for the next seven decades, finally being closed in 1971 in favor of newer, cleaner smelting facilities. Designated a National Historic Landmark and donated to the city of Birmingham in 1981, Sloss Furnaces remains today in largely the state in which it was when it was abandoned.

What drew me to the site was my penchant for aging structures. Everywhere the vivid colors and textures that can only be brought about through time hung, like a rough tapestry proclaiming the past glory of the vast structures. Time. That is what one senses, standing among the huge relics, wrapped in the silent cloak of a rainy April morning. Walking through the labyrinth of tanks, walkways, girders, tangled matrices of piping, and descending into the dark, dripping underground rail line, here and there a smeared charcoal hand print reminding you of the distant years of busied labor and purpose, one is struck by the vast, dormant energy the site still holds, gripped within the somber weight of an ancient ruin.

- David Sercel, April 4th, 2012

(click image to enlarge)
Sloss Furnaces