Brierfield Ironworks

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Brierfield Ironworks was a 19th century iron furnace and forge located on a former farmstead southwest of Montevallo on a stream running to the Cahaba River in Bibb County. Pioneer farmer Jesse Mahan constructed a large farmhouse in 1850. He sold the farm to Caswell Huckabee, who in turn formed the Bibb County Iron Company and constructed a stone furnace with a 36-foot stack in 1861 and also erected rolling mills and foundries capable of turning out cannon, shell, shot and other iron products.

From the beginning of the Civil War Huckabee's furnace supplied the Confederate States of America's Naval Works in Selma with iron. The Confederacy oversaw production to insure that it received all of the iron produced. After twice refusing to enter into a long-term contract with the Confederacy, the company was forced to sell the works to the government or suffer its confiscation. Thus for an outlay of $600,000 in Confederate tender approved on September 9, 1863, Brierfield became the only publicly-owned iron production facility in the South. The works were destroyed by the 10th Missouri Cavalry, a detachment of Wilson's Raiders commanded by Fredrick Benteen, on March 31, 1865.

Since it had been owned by the Confederate government, the United States claimed possession of the ironworks site. Former CSA Chief of Ordnance Josiah Gorgas joined with Francis Lyon and seven other investors to purchase it from the Freedman's Bureau on February 3, 1866 for $45,000. Their Canebrake Company formed the Brierfield Coal and Iron Company to operate it. Gorgas moved his wife and six children to Mahan's former farm house and hired University of Alabama professor James Mallet as chief engineer. They succeeded in producing their first iron on November 3, 1866.

Gorgas struggled to maintain production amid difficulties with the railroads and other factors. The furnace blew out on July 18, 1867. Despite those difficulties, Gorgas remained with the furnace until accepting a position at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee in 1869.

Thomas Alvis of Virginia leased the property in August 1869 and turned to producing iron ties for cotton bales. They were successful until the Panic of 1873, which bankrupted him. The Canebrake Company sold the idle ironworks to Alexander Sheppard, William Carter and Kearsley Carter in 1881. They, in turn, sold it to Thomas Peters in 1883. His plan to produce cut iron nails, however, was undermined by the successful invention of wire nails. Another blowout on December 24, 1894 spelled the end of production at Brierfield.

The historic furnace site is now the centerpiece of Brierfield Ironworks Historical State Park, which is overseen by the Alabama Ironworks Historical Commission. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 20, 1974

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