Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Carrie Furnace Tour

Once upon a time, steel mills lined the river banks and clouds of soot filled the air throughout Western Pennsylvania. Very few are in existence today.  Shopping malls, industrial parks, and decaying remnants are what remain in towns once dominated by the industry.  One of these dilapidated structures, the Carrie Furnace, located along the Monongahela River in Rankin/Swissvale has sat abandoned, since 1979.  The Carrie Furnace was founded in 1884 and was acquired by Andrew Carnegie in 1898 to supply iron to his Homestead works across the river.  At the Carrie Furnace, coke, limestone, and iron ore were put into one of the seven blast furnaces and cooked at 2,800 degrees. It was then transported across the Rankin Hot Metal Bridge to Homestead via torpedo cars, where the pig iron was made into steel.  Ninety-two feet tall Furnaces #6 and #7, which were built in 1907 by U.S. Steel are all that remain of the site today.  Years of neglect left the structures to rust and decay.  In 2006, the site was designated a National Historic Landmark and the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area opened the 38 acre site to tourists.  The Carrie Furnace is constantly being restored by volunteers in order to preserve history.  The site has also attracted filmmakers and photographers, as several movies and music videos have been filmed here over the years.

Torpedo car used to transport iron to Homestead

To capture Pittsburgh's past, Rivers of Steel offers tours of the Carrie Furnace on Saturdays (10 AM) April 27 through October, and Fridays (10 AM) June through August.  On the roughly two-hour guided tour, visitors walk through the cast house, furnaces, and ore yards where thousands of Pittsburghers' worked 24 hours/day, 365 days/year to create 1,000 to 1,250 tons of pig iron per day.  Tour guides provide a historical perspective of the site, the iron making process, the different jobs an employee held, and describe the working conditions of a mill worker at the Carrie Furnace.  One of the highlights is seeing the Carrie Deer that was erected in 1997.  The Carrie Deer is a 40' tall structure created by a group of artists that snuck into the Carrie Furnace and spent a year constructing using materials extracted from the site.  This is the only mill of its kind that one can tour.   It is a great way for people to learn about Pittsburgh's steel heritage.  Rivers of Steel envisions this historical site as the focal point for development in the future.   

Carrie Deer

Years of driving across the Rankin Bridge to get to my grandparents' house I always looked off into the distance at the ruins of the former mill. When I read that a restoration project was underway and tours were going to be offered I made sure to sign up.  On a recent Saturday morning, I took the tour and was fascinated with the preservation effort and scenery. The tour was very interesting and the tour guide was very knowledgeable. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in history and Pittsburgh. This is a one-of-a-kind experience that is a must-see.  I hope they get the necessary funding to continue to develop the site for everyone to enjoy.

Reservations for tours can be made at www.riversofsteel.com.