Shelby Iron Works

Shelby, Alabama




Posted: 03/18/2013  By: Daniel Valles

Incredible history can be found in the most unobtrusive places. Such is the story of the Shelby Iron Works. Located near the geographic center of Alabama, in the small, quiet town of Shelby, lies the remains of Alabama’s largest charcoal blast furnace. These remains give scant evidence to the important role it played during the Civil War and Alabama’s fledgling iron industry. Despite operating for over half a century, this landmark would have faded in memory without the preservation efforts of the Historic Shelby Association.

Horace Ware, then in his late twenties, took the first significant step in establishing his pre-eminence, when he purchased timberlands and brown hematite ore properties in Shelby County and began construction of a cold-blast charcoal iron furnace at a site six miles south of Columbiana. …

As early as 1849, Ware advertised his products in various state papers; and by 1850 the Shelby Iron Manufacturing Company was listed in De Bow’s Review as one of Alabama’s efficient iron establishments.

Profits were scant and often took the form of merchandise and country produce rather than cash. In approximately 1852, he sent a sample lot of pig iron to foundry men in the fledgling manufacturing town of Columbus, Georgia. There Shelby iron was tested in competition with iron from Georgia and Tennessee. Shelby’s superior strength won a large order for 1,000 tons, almost one year’s production, at a premium price of $36 per ton. Bolstered by the success of this venture, Ware next had a small forge establish on Camp Branch, three miles west of the furnace, where Roert Thomas, a skilled Welshman with a background in the Georgia iron business, superintended the production of wrought blooms.

Ware relied primarily on slave labor, using personally owned slaves and those owned by McClanahan.

By early 1860, Ware had developed for the time one of the most impressive industrial complexes in Alabama, if not the South, consisting of a blast furnace, a forge, a foundry, and a rolling mill plus community facilities including a church, school, and homes for 300 people. All employees were guaranteed adequate housing and supplies. The company operated several boarding houses for single men and those with families were provided living quarters in quickly constructed homes.

During the Civil War, and afterwards, Shelby Iron Works further expanded production and facilities.

Shelby Iron Works ended production.

The iron works structures stood dormant until they were dismantled for scrap in 1929.

Although Shelby Iron Company was very successful and produced a very high grade of iron, it found itself unable to compete with other regional establishments.  Shelby’s problems stemmed from incessant transportation problems and from the lack of abundant coal supplies needed to compete with other establishments.  The land that held resources for the dominant pre-industrial establishment was inadequate for a new era on industrialization.