2022 Mining History Association


Tannehill Iron Furnaces Tour
Tour Leader, Jack Bergstresser

McCalla, Alabama
June 26, 2022



The Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park in McCalla, Alabama, preserves the Roupes Valley Iron Ironworks site which has a long history of ironmaking from colonial times through the end of the Civil War.  The site is considered to be the birthplace of iron and steel making in the Birmingham District.


Daniel Hillman, Sr., a Pennsylvanian, built a bloomery forge in 1830 utilizing local brown iron ore (Goethite) from a mine two miles away.  In 1840, Ninian Tannehill, a local planter, purchased the property.  In 1857, Moses Stroup, a noted southern ironmaster, built the first charcoal cold-blast furnace (No. 1) at the site.  In 1862, the furnace was sold to William Sanders.  During the war, financed by the Confederate government, Sanders added two furnaces (Nos. 2 and 3) with steam powered blowing engines.  The iron was produced for the Confederate government.  Wartime production was as much as 22 tons per day suppling the Selma Arsenal and Naval Ordnance Works. From the earliest iron production, the furnaces relied on a large labor force of enslaved workers.  On March 31, 1865, shortly before Confederate surrender at Appomattox, the furnaces and supporting facilities were destroyed by Union forces. 


Following the war, the Tannehill Furnaces were never refired.  In 1869, David Thomas, the well-known anthracite iron maker from Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, formed the Pioneer Mining and Manufacturing Company and purchased Tannehill.  This company mined iron ore but never resumed furnace operations.  Pioneer eventually became part of Republic Steel.  In 1952, Republic donated site to the University of Alabama.  It became a Historic State Park in 1969.  Restoration of the ruins at Tannehill began in 1976.  The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.



(Above and Right) Tour Guide, Jack Bergstresser, starts the tour with the history of the Tannehill Furnaces and the Roupes Valley Iron Company.  The furnaces were critical to the supply of iron for the Confederacy during the Civil war.  CLICK HERE to see one of the markers in the park that commemorates that contribution to the war effort.

View of the ruins of furnace No. 1 before restoration work was begun. (HABS photo)

Cabins along furnace trail house park artisans.

The furnace trail provides a good view of the charging bridge used to carry ore and charcoal to the top of the furnaces.

Furnace No. 1 is at the left.  Furnaces No. 2 and No. 3, from the Civil War era, are at the right.

Jack Bergstresser describes the iron making process used in the furnaces.

The MHAers are standing on the location of the original covered casting floor in front of the furnaces.

(Left) View of pipes forcing air through the tuyeres of the furnace.


(Above) A close-up view of the furnace hearth lined with fire brick.

CLICK HERE for a detailed drawing of the furnace construction.  CLICK HERE for a cross-section drawing through the No. 2 furnace.  (HABS HAER Drawings, Library of Congress)

Water from Roupes Creek was conveyed down a raceway to turn a water wheel which operated the bellows to provide the air blast for furnace No. 1.

The approximate location of Daniel Hillmanís original bloomery forge.

(Left) Plaques from the American Society for Metals (ASM) and the American Foundrymenís Association (AFA) recognize the birthplace of the Birmingham iron and steel industry.


(Above) Historical marker dedicated to the Iron Makers of the Confederacy.

Silvia catches Pat and Mike Kaas exploring the ironworks.  For once Mike, MHA Web Coordinator, is not behind the camera.

Four MHA Past Presidents (left to right, Bill Culver with Carmen, Eric Nystrom, Erik Nordberg, and Stephanie Saager-Bourret) are listening intently to Jack.

(Above) The Alabama Iron and Steel Museum is part of the Historic State Park.  This display shows some of the artillery shells made from Tannehill iron at the Selma Arsenal.


(Right) Looks like this shell missed its mark.

A museum display describes the social structure at the ironworks: the workers; the slaves, the management, and the military inspectors.

Is anybody hungry?  The MHAers enjoy their boxed lunches in the restored school building.

Photos courtesy of Silvia Pettem and Mike and Pat Kaas





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