Another beautiful morning in Alabama and we were ready to continue exploring Birmingham! We started our day at Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark, located in downtown Birmingham. In my research on TripAdvisor, I was intrigued by the popularity of this attraction. Once I checked out the Sloss Furnaces website and learned that we would have the opportunity to walk around an old industrial site without a guide, I knew we could not leave Birmingham without a visit.
Like all visitors, we made our way to the Sloss Furnaces Visitor Center where everyone must register. There are a few exhibits here as well as water fountains and restrooms. Don’t miss the very informative film that shares the history of the site . Here is a little of what we learned:
For over 90 years, Sloss Furnaces was essential to the making of iron. Here, in the heat of the furnaces, men worked to turn limestone, coke and iron ore into pig iron that was then sent to steel mills. In the early 1970’s, as steel manufacturing wound down in America, the fires of Sloss Furnaces went out for good. The question for Birmingham became what should be done with this industrial site?
With forward-thinking civic leaders and citizens, the Sloss Furnaces industrial site was saved from demolition. Instead, the historic structures were stabilized with funds approved by Birmingham voters. In 1981, Sloss Furnaces received its National Historic Landmark designation and opened to the public in 1983. Today, Sloss Furnaces “is currently the only twentieth-century blast furnace in the nation being preserved and interpreted as an industrial museum.”
Tips: Ask for a copy of the Scavenger Hunt from reception as it is great fun for grown-ups and kids alike! This attraction is not well-suited for strollers or young children due to uneven paths and inherent dangers of an industrial site. Don’t forget to bring water with you as all the self-guided tour is outdoors.
Upon exiting the Visitor Center, we entered a world of metal and rust. We were quite alone when we began our journey along the self-guided trail which gave me the feeling of being an Urban Explorer. Soon, we were walking through a jungle of pipes belonging to the Boilers and dwarfed by the six tall cylindrical Hot Blast Stoves. It is here that steam and hot air was created to run the furnaces.
Next, we investigated buildings including the Power House (1922), Blower Building (early 1900’s) and Pyrometer House (named after the temperature measuring instruments) . We couldn’t forget to visit the No. 1 Cast Shed where the No. 1 furnace is located. It was in this open building that the hot, molten iron produced in the furnaces made it’s way to the Ladle car; (a large steel kettle rail car lined with heat-resistant firebrick), which then transported the still-molten iron to the Pig Caster, where it was poured into molds. These molds were sprayed with water to harden the iron; then flipped over so the pig iron bars could fall freely into waiting rail cars.
Throughout the site there were doors coming off hinges, broken gauges, and rusted stairs. If you stopped and listened, you could almost hear the sounds of the past; steam hissing, metal banging, men calling to each other, a work whistle….. it was truly an one-of-a-kind experience and the whole family enjoyed capturing their own personal experiences with cameras.
Tip: Having kids take their own photos not only encourages creativity, but can also be a great family bonding experience. At the end of the day, we like to look at and admire each others photos. Kids have an unique eye for photography and I love to add Drake and Mia’s creative work to our family vacation album.
Note: The second historic furnace is now used by Sloss Metal Arts. This art program focuses on cast and formed metal sculpture. There are workshops, exhibitions, and conferences on all facets of metal working. For more information visit Sloss Metal Arts website.
The clouds began to gather and darken so we reluctantly headed back to the Visitors Center. We were fortunate not to be out exploring in the downpour that followed.
Click here to watch a “Twin Views” segment filmed at Sloss Furnaces. Drake and Mia share their thoughts on their visit.
Our next destination was Red Mountain Park, the perfect follow-up attraction after Sloss Furnaces because of an integrated past. Let me explain.
Red Mountain is where the first commercial ore mine (Eureka 1) opened in late 1863. Soon, there were dozens of mines all over the mountain as the need for iron ore exploded. Industrialist James W. Sloss owned a group of mines here that produced the iron ore needed to run his blast furnace operation. For decades, men from all over the country came to mine the ore from Red Mountain. In 1962, the reliance on iron ore trickled, and the last mine on Red Mountain closed.
Red Mountain stood quiet and untouched for nearly 50 years. It wasn’t until 2007 that U.S. Steel sold more than 1,200 acres to Red Mountain Park and Recreation Area Commission and a new urban park was born. Today, Red Mountain is a “vital open green space” for all residents and visitors to enjoy.
Note: There are no roads within Red Mountain Park so visitors must either explore by hiking or biking the established 15 miles of wooded trails.
We were signed up for the Vulcan Materials Zip Trip, an hour-long, seven zip-line adventure, that would take us 40 feet above ground. Unfortunately, our tour had to be cancelled due to thunder activity in the area. We were disappointed, however, truly appreciate the safety measures Red Mountain staff follows.
Note: Participants must be at least six years old, 50″ tall and weigh no more than 250 pounds. The harness must fit correctly: sometimes guests are too small for the harness even though they fulfill height and weight requirements. Visit Red Mountain website for details on all their offered adventures.
We were then invited to join park employees for a tour. Our first stop was No. 13, one of the few mines still left visible on the property. Here, we learned more about iron ore mining and the miners who lived in company-owned towns on the mountain.
One of the great aspects of the park is the relationship it has with Eagle Scouts, allowing them to complete Service Projects within its boundaries. Drake and Mia’s favorite project was the oversized Adirondack chairs. My favorite was the bat box project that created homes for resident bats. There was also a shady area where another Eagle Scout built hammock hooks for visitors to enjoy the peace of the park.
We also visited the ruins of the Redding Shaft mine with its Spanish Revival architecture still evident. This is one of just a scant few buildings left on the mountain. As the mines closed, all supporting buildings were torn down. This way mine owners wouldn’t have to pay taxes on the structures. This building, covered in trees and vines, escaped demolition. It is the jewel of the park.
Next we learned about Kudzu, an invasive species of vine that can grow up to a foot a day in summer and will climb everything it can. Although pretty, this vine is a threat to trees as it can cover so completely, the tree is unable to get light. Red Mountain Park is making an effort to eradicate Kudzu from the park.
Red Mountain has been doing a test with a company called Goat Busters. A herd of goats have been hired to eat through areas of dense Kudzu and are making great progress. This area is fenced off and the goats are protected by two herding dogs. These cute goats just eat to their hearts content and the park gets a large area cleared of the invasive plant without using harsh chemicals or hours of manual labor. It’s a win-win!
Red Mountain is also home to Kaul Adventure Tower, an 80-foot, eight-lane climbing tower offering traditional rock climbing with hand-holds and vine climbs as well as rappelling. Drake and Mia really want to climb Kaul and try the accompanying “Mega Zip” adventure the next time we are in Birmingham. We bid goodbye to our guides and headed back to our base camp.
Note: Have your dog with you? Red Mountain offers a 6-acre off-leash dog park!
Click here to watch a “Twin Views” segment on our time at Red Mountain Park. Mia takes the reins to tell us her views about Red Mountain Park.
There were still a few things to see at Oak Mountain State Park including the Demonstration Farm. It was late in the day so we were the sole visitors. Drake and Mia enjoyed petting the goats and miniature horses.
We had to make a stop to check out Oak Mountain State Park cabins. These 2-bedroom cabins are located on Lake Tranquility who’s use is designated for cabin guests only. Enjoy fishing or just paddling around in one of the canoes or boats available free to cabin guests. Cabins are all two-bedrooms with a maximum 6-people. Linens and kitchen items furnished!
Note: There are two dog-friendly cabins available for an extra fee.
Our next stop was to check out FlipSide Watersports, “Alabama’s first and only cable watersports park.” We watched a few people out having fun on the water. It was too late in the day for Drake and Mia to give it a try. Something we may have to try on our next visit.
Note: There is so much more to Oak Mountain State Park! There are swimming beaches, mountain bike trails, a playground, public archery park, fishing, boat rentals, a BMX track, and “The Oaks” public golf course!
Click here to watch a “Twin Views” segment filmed at our campsite at Oak Mountain State Park. Mia takes the reins on this segment to share her thoughts on our time within this beautiful Alabama State Park.
At dinner that night, we discussed how much fun we had in Birmingham. We found the city to be beautiful, accessible and certainly an up-and-coming destination. It is home to great people and such a wide range of things to do. We were leaving with a genuine love of the city and vowed to return. I already have my list started for our next Birmingham visit!
Top 5 Birmingham Area Attractions for Next Visit
Birmingham Civil Rights Heritage Trail– Starting in the downtown Civil Rights District, this walking trail includes 70 sites of national merit designated by the National Register of Historic Places with plans to expand. Although this activity was of real interest to me, I decided to wait until Drake and Mia were just a little older to fully appreciate the historical importance.
Birmingham Botanical Gardens– There are miles of paths including more than 20 unique garden areas such as the Southern Living Garden and Japanese Garden. It is open year-round and admission is free!
Mercedes Benz Factory Tour – This didn’t make our list this year as participants have to be a minimum of 10-years old.
Tannehill Ironworks State Historical Park – A beautiful park that offers a miniature railroad, the Iron & Steel Museum and craftsmen demonstrations including a blacksmith and miller. There is also a campground, unique cabin rentals and plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities.
Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum – This museum holds over 1,400 perfectly restored motorcycles and cars and said to be the largest motorcycle museum in the world.