Shelby Iron Works

Shelby, Alabama



Post-Civil War

Posted: 03/18/2013  By: Daniel Valles

Even before war hostilities had ceased, the company had begun its reconstruction program. By 1865, the Shelby Iron Company had been firmly established as Alabama’s leading iron manufactory. After the official raid, the Federal government gave them free rein to resume reconstruction, without the restrictions that the Confederate government had placed on them.

Although production would be on hold due to the raid, the company had a large amount of iron already on hand which it proceeded to sell to raise money. The first arrangement for iron sales was made with Union forces stationed at Montevallo. The commander in charge purchased iron for horseshoes and for repair of the railroad.

Ware had sent a sample lot of Thomas’ handiwork to Sheffield, England, where in 1865 it was manufactured into steel and then into fine cutlery. Ware could not consistently produce enough high quality iron from the Shelby ore to follow up such a specialized and distant market, but the English success was valuable publicity. Shelby was never able, in spite or repeated attempts, to use its product for profitable steel manufacture because of its high phosphorus content.

For a while, transportation would continue to be a major problem in shipping iron as the rails were in bad repair, swamped with government freight, or burdened with exorbitant freight charges.

In 1866, arrangements were made for sale of company stock with a group of Connecticut and New York industrialists and businessmen for funds to rebuild the works and to pay off the company’s indebtedness. The official sale was completed in 1868.

School classes began. A.W. North, financial agent for the company, appealed to one of his fellow stockholders, John H. Browning of New York, for help in supplying the school. He also made requests for Sunday School literature, hymn books and Bibles to be used in church services at the works.

February: the first furnace to be put back into operation following the Civil War.

Shelby became a nationally known firm in the railroad car wheel iron trade, a reputation continuing until the end of the century. Construction starts on the company store, and it was completed in February, 1872.

Construction of the Commissary.
Furnace No.2 was built.

Shelby was able to pay its first postwar dividend.

The United States Association of Charcoal Iron Workers visited the South. The highlight of that trip, which was the third annual meeting of the group, was a trip from Chattanooga to Birmingham with stops at thirteen blast furnaces along the way. These blast furnace visits were the most important activity of the association because its members were prominent iron makers from around the country who were vitally interested in the latest developments in their trade. For this reason the group had previously visited the charcoal furnaces of Pennsylvania, Michigan and other regions. It is safe to say that these experts has probably seen the best charcoal iron making installations in the United States. John Birkinbine, the founder of the group, was very impressed, stating: “We make no invidious comparisons nor detract from any other furnace when we say that the Shelby Iron Works in the Queen of American charcoal furnaces. Whatever money could do to make a complete works has been done here.”

Shelby bought out Ware’s stock for $132,525.

Controlling interest in the company was sold to a New Jersey corporation.

The Alabama Mineral Railroad assumed the operations of the Shelby Iron Co.’s Railroad on August 24, 1890. The line then was called the Shelby & Columbiana Railroad.

Shelby Iron Works ended production.

The iron works structures stood dormant until they were dismantled for scrap in 1929.  In 1930, the Shelby company reorganized as an Alabama Corporation, with the principal activity of the company in real estate and timber operations.

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.