Shelby Iron Works

Shelby, Alabama




Posted: 03/18/2013  By: Daniel Valles

Although numerous forgers had been built in Alabama before the 1840’s, only two blast furnaces had been constructed in the state prior to Ware’s effort at Shelby. The first furnace in Alabama was Cedar Creek in Franklin County, which was put in blast soon after the War of 1812 and which was operated irregularly until the mid 1830’s. The second, Cane Creek Furnace in Calhoun County, began production between 1830 and 1843.

Ware’s construction of the Shelby furnace, along with the institution of iron production in Calhoun County, previewed a quickening in the 1840’s of industrial interest, not only in Alabama but also in the South and the nation as a whole.

…Ware’s Shelby furnace went in blast sometime between 1846 and 1849. In size and design, the Shelby operation was typical of ante-bellum iron producers in Alabama. The furnace, constructed of brick and rough stones, was thirty feet tall and eight feet across the bash. The hearth and crucible were lined with sandstone blocks, quarried some twenty miles distant. The furnace lining was of brick made from locally obtained clay. An old steamboat engine and two horizontal blowing cylinders and other necessary casting were obtained in Rome, Georgia, and rafted down the Coosa River, which flows eight miles east of Shelby and was reached from the works by a dirt road. To avoid the cost of a hoist to charge the furnace, the stack nestled against the south side of a hill from which brown hematite ore was mined with pick and shovel and carried some 300 yards by mule cart to the furnace top. Before being poured into the furnace, the ore was purified by slow roasting in an open kiln of alternate layers of ore and coal dust. Each day ten to twelve tons of the ore, hot from the kiln if possible, were charged into the furnace.

In this primitive manner, Ware’s furnace produced each day four to six tons of cold-blast charcoal pig iron. Ware faced a tremendous problem in marketing even this small amount of iron quickly enough to meet his operating expenses, which amounted to approximately $17 per ton. Much of the product was converted to hollowware and various castings sold locally to farmers, merchants, and blacksmiths in Shelby, Talladega, and Jefferson counties. In seasons of high water, iron was hauled to the Coosa River by wagon and boated on crude rafts to Prattville and Montgomery. Some of the iron was carried even furth down the Alabama River by steamboat to Mobile. Daniel Pratt, who made Prattville the most diversified manufacturing town in the South, was a steady customer.

Construction began on Alabama’s first rolling mill. Progress was slow. Not until April, 1860, did the rolling mill begin production. It was capable of turning out twelve tons of finished bar iron daily. However, he needed more capital to pay for past construction, provide for effective utilization of existing capacity, and prepare for even further expansion. He started advertising stock for sale in equal shares. However, he was not able to attract investors between 1858 and 1860.


With the completion of his rolling mill, Ware turned out Alabama’s first finished bar iron.