Alice Furnaces

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Alice Furnaces was the first commercially successful iron-making blast furnace operation to be constructed at the new City of Birmingham. It was located at the southwestern end of the city's Railroad Reservation, between the tracks of the Alabama & Chattanooga Railroad and the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, near where they diverge. The site, which was donated by the Elyton Land Company, lay just outside the city limits, exempting it from taxes and ordinances passed by the Birmingham Board of Aldermen.

The project was financed by Henry F. DeBardeleben and T. T. Hillman of the Pratt Coal & Coke Company. Hillman designed the furnace specifically for the coals and ores obtainable in the Birmingham District. The contract for construction was given to Frank O'Brien, and work on the plant began on September 29, 1879. The first furnace, Alice Furnace No. 1, went into blast on November 23, 1880. It was followed by Alice Furnace No. 2, blown in on July 24, 1883. The entire Pratt Coal & Coke Company was sold to Enoch Ensley, and then soon acquired by the Tennessee Coal, Iron & Railroad Company (TCI) in 1886. Ensley became president of the fast-growing company and Hillman was made a vice president and supervisor of the Alice Furnaces division.

The furnace was initially supplied with red iron ore from Grace's Gap, and later purchased ore from TCI's mines at Hillman and Redding. Coal for the Alice Furnaces was supplied by the Pratt Company on a dedicated rail line that was later absorbed into the Birmingham Mineral Railroad. The company operated large batteries of coke ovens on site: 150 by 1880, and as many as 250 during peak production, when iron was produced continuously in runs lasting 12 months or more. The second furnace was significantly more efficient than the first, producing as much as 150 tons of iron per day in 1886. Older furnaces in the county, at Irondale and Oxmoor, could not compete with the quality and quantity of iron produced by TCI in Birmingham.

Slag from Alice Furnaces was piled on the western end of the site, with the mounds providing a convenient elevated view for athletic competitions at West End Park, also known as "Slag Pile Field," the first home of the Birmingham Barons baseball club and the site of three Alabama-Auburn football games.

Basic iron from Alice Furnaces was shipped to steel plants around the country, with none of it rejected as unfit. The demonstrated quality of iron produced there was instrumental for Enoch Ensley's ability to finance construction of the Ensley Works with capital investments from the L & N Railroad and TCI.

The massive steel plant in Ensley quickly eclipsed TCI's older operation at Alice Furnaces. Furnace No. 1 was dismantled in 1905. The second furnace was idled in 1927 and scrapped within two years. The entire site was a vacant lot by 1940. Its eastern end was acquired as part of the right-of-way for I-65.

The remainder of the Alice Furnace site currently serves as the home of Golden Flake, and the Construction Division of the Birmingham Department of Public Works, accessed from Golden Flake Drive.

Foundryman Theophilus Jowers died in an accident at Alice Furnaces and his ghost was said to haunt the site. After the furnaces were dismantled, his son, John reportedly saw him continuing to work at Sloss Furnaces on the other side of the city.

References

  • "Alice Furnaces" (July 23, 2006) Bhamrails.info - accessed November 23, 2015