Shelby Iron Works Gearing Up

Iron Works Syrup Mill Expansion 01

With the colder days of winter passing by, and Spring weather rolling in, Shelby Iron Works is abuzz with activity! Already this year, the Historic Shelby Association has been renovating and expanding for the upcoming festivals, and also for the park’s future. Over the past few weekends, volunteers have been working on the syrup mill pavilion, a new furnace pavilion, as well as brand new renovations on a future Industry Museum and Education Classroom.

Using lumber that association members milled themselves, they expanded a new wing on the syrup mill pavillion, giving them a place to keep wood for the furnace out of the rain, as well as provide shade for park visitors who eagerly watch the fall ritual of boiling the syrup in the evaporator pan.

The park also now has a new pavilion which will house a demonstration furnace, where basic refining and mold making will be demonstrated. Work on the furnace area will continue throughout the summer, but already the parts are being assembled. At the parks Spring Festival on Saturday, May 16th there will be a refining exhibit set up for visitors to learn about the process and see the ongoing project.

The association is also starting work on two brand new projects that will both preserve history and present it to young people. In the building next to the syrup mill, work has already started on the Industrial Museum. This will house larger pieces of machinery from days gone by, that were similar to machines and tools used in the area at the height of its industrial boom.

In the center of the building will be a spacious educational classroom where school groups and private groups will be hosted. Educational and history presentations will also be prepared and given here. This building will complement the Ironworks Museum, which was completely renovated last Fall, in providing a sit-down environment for learning about our rich local heritage.

For more information regarding this article, contact Dan Valles, 205-669-7596 or email at

Iron Works Furnace Pavillion 01

Published in: on March 30, 2009 at 2:12 am  Leave a Comment  

Unearthing Our History

Robert Brasher, first President of Historic Shelby Association, works to clear remaining debris overlay from a section of the rolling mill floor during our archeological excavation in 1994. The dig was conducted under the direction of industrial archeologist Dr. Jack Bergstresser, Jr., PhD.
The Shelby rolling mill was destroyed on March 31, 1865.

Published in: on March 29, 2009 at 2:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Shelby Iron Works Rolling Mill 130 Years Later

Shelby Iron Works founder Horace Ware began construction of the rolling mill in 1858. It was destined to become a major supplier of Confederate iron. The mill was destroyed on March 31, 1865 by troops of General Emory Upton’s Division of Wilson’s Cavalry Corps. It was never rebuilt.
In the Spring of 1994, Dr. Jack Bergstresser, Sr. PhD and a team of archeologists from Panamerican Consultants, Inc. began a preliminary archeological investigation of a portion of the rolling mill. Joining in the dig were students of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and members of the Historic Shelby Association.
The excavation was funded in part through a grant from the Alabama Historical Commission and partial matching funds by the Historic Shelby Association.
The photo above is the measured drawing of the portion of the rolling mill that was excavated.

Opening Day for Renovated Museum

By Daniel Valles,
Assistant Museum Curator, Shelby Iron Works Park

On Saturday, 11th, October 2008, the Historic Shelby Association cut the ribbon and opened the newly renovated Museum. Our Association has completely renovated what had been a simple dark room with a handful of photos and signs into a breathtaking scene, featuring themed exhibits, professionally printed photos and informational signage, new track lighting, more than doubling the artifacts and contents, and working with interior design to make the room seem twice as large!

Shortly after the 2008 Spring Festival, I had the opportunity to present the Association with sketches and proposals for a complete Museum overhaul. Since then, I, along with others, have been working on building the exhibits, researching local history and ironworking, painting, developing signage, and bringing the Museum to a point where local school groups, organizations, and individuals could come and learn about what makes Shelby’s history so important to our area and state.

I wanted to make the museum unlike other museums that young people are used to. Instead of seeing artifacts sitting in staid glass cases, I wanted the museum to be a time machine. When you step through the doors, you are walking through an entrance into the past. All of the exhibits are designed to take the viewer’s mind into the past, where they feel as though they are stepping into the subject they are looking at. Whether you are transported to the living room of yesteryear, or visiting the Shelby Iron Works machine shop, the visitor leaves feeling like they have seen and experienced a piece of our history.

The opening day was busy! Countless visitors came through and expressed their surprise at the transformation. Most of them would be only a foot or two into the building, where they would just stop in amazement at the experience laid out before them. Entering through the barn-themed entryway, visitors chose to either start with the family and faith aspects of Shelby, or start learning from the industrial perspective of Shelby’s history. Even with the large crowds, visitors still had ample room to move about, read signs, and move fluidly.

Many of the older visitors glowed about how they remembered certain aspects from their childhood, or excitedly pointed out people and places from their past to their grandchildren. Many of the younger people read with interest the science behind refining, seeing actual molds and tools laid out on the workman’s bench before them. Civil War buffs read about Wilson’s Raiders and the Shelby produced armor plating on the C.S.S. Tennessee. I thoroughly enjoyed conversing with some of the older folk from the area, as they shared with me many of their first-hand experiences from days gone by. It was encouraging to see their enthusiasm as I shared with them our plans for the future to bring in school groups and others to learn and experience local history.

The Museum is almost done; yet it will never be done. As additional funds come in, we wish to develop more informational signage and documentation, workshop curriculums, additional exhibit construction, as well as outdoor exhibits. Currently, we are now offering tours by appointment! A minimum donation of $3 per person will help defray our expenses. Contact us about special themes, presentations, or workshops that your group may be interested in. School groups, home school groups, scout groups, and others are encouraged to contact John Brasher at: 205-669-2465, or email us at

Published in: on March 28, 2009 at 7:17 am  Leave a Comment