‘Light Up Sloss’ celebrates Birmingham’s history, present and future

Sloss Ovens has been one of Birmingham’s most visible landmarks for generations. Located along First Avenue North, immediately east of downtown, the towering furnaces and chimneys produced pig iron from 1882 to 1971.

The Sloss Complex was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1981, beginning its evolution as a tourist attraction and interpretive industrial museum. It is home to a nationally recognized metal arts program and is an ever-popular venue for concerts, festivals and other events.

One of Birmingham’s most distinctive landmarks will be more visible with newly installed lighting. (Phil Free/Alabama NewsCenter)

For all of this, local excitement about Sloss reached a new high on June 21. That evening, a crowd of several hundred gathered to wait for the sun to set and the ceremonial flip of a switch to “Light Up Sloss”. Organized by volunteers for the non-profit Sloss Furnaces Foundation – and supported by a list of sponsors that includes the Alabama Energy Foundation – the project has installed energy-efficient lighting that will provide a permanent nighttime display featuring Sloss’s iconic ovens, fireplaces and water tower.

“It’s a great night out,” said Cathy Sloss Jones, a Birmingham entrepreneur and citizen and great-great-granddaughter of the man in charge of the ovens, James Withers Sloss. “It’s great to see the city recognize the importance of this historic site in a way that projects the role it can play in the future.”

Although not officially a “founder” of Birmingham, James Withers Sloss helped make the city’s founding and early survival possible. An influential industrialist and railroad owner from northern Alabama – one historian has described him as one of “the leading proponents of Alabama’s industrial development” after the Civil War – Sloss was a visionary who not only saw the possibilities of a city based on ironmaking and railroads, but acted on it.

This story gives resonance to the addition of the lights at Sloss Furnaces, said Lee Sentell, director of the Alabama Department of Tourism. Sentell pointed out that Sloss has long been included in his department’s publicity and promotional materials, but he now looks forward to including a photo featuring the new lights in the state’s next vacation guide.

“It’s a dramatic exclamation point,” Sentell said. “Sloss Furnaces is already a big attraction for Birmingham, but the lights will spark curiosity in visitors, foster greater awareness and understanding of why this facility and the steel industry was so important.”

At the reception before the ceremony, a sense of anticipation was apparent. Long-time Birmingham resident Morris Newman shared his excitement, calling the new lights at Sloss “yet another indicator that Birmingham is going beyond what it has ever been before”.

“It’s like expecting fireworks on the 4th of July,” Newman said. “This is testament to our continued progress. What is happening in Birmingham right now is truly astonishing, and it underlines that. »

In his pre-ignition remarks, Sloss Furnaces Foundation Chairman Steve Reider alluded to the darker aspects of Birmingham’s history. He noted that, like other major local industries, Sloss has long maintained a segregated workforce and later there were sometimes violent battles over unionization – all part of the history of the company and the city.

“By turning on these lights, we want to shine a light on all of these stories,” Reider said. “In doing so, we are helping to light the way to keep our city moving forward.”

birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin invited members of the Birmingham City Council – in the same way Jefferson County Commissioner Steve Ammons and Birmingham School Board member Mary Boehm – to join him on the podium. Given the honor of turning on the lights, Woodfin invited the children present to help him flip the switch.

“Tonight is about the future,” Woodfin said. “For years the ovens at Sloss have lit up the Birmingham night sky. But those lights will shine even brighter. And they will continue to shine.

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