A bit of roadside architecture love this week: the giant peach water tower in Gafney, South Carolina. Photograph taken while driving by on I-85, March 2009.
Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama is a National Historic Landmark and the only 20th century blast furnace in the country to be preserved and interpreted as a historic industrial site. Sloss Furnaces began operating in 1882, and in the 1920s, at its height, 500 workers produced 400 tons of pig iron per day. Pig iron is smelted iron ore and coke (fuel derived from coal) that is used to make wrought iron, cast iron, and steel. Birmingham is often referred to as the Pittsburgh of the South, for the abundance of iron producing resources located within 30 miles of the city: minerals, coal, ore, and clay. The furnace, just one of many around Birmingham, operated until 1971, after undergoing modernizations and holding out in a dying industry to due changing production methods.
Sloss Furnaces has been a National Historic Landmark since 1981, the first industrial site of its kind to be considered for this designation. The Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) documented the site. To see the documentation (photographs, data pages, documents, measured drawings), see here, in the American Memory project of the Library of Congress. Today Sloss Furnaces serves as a historic site as well as a location for community and civic events.
Visiting Sloss Furnaces was a unique experience. We could walk almost anywhere we wanted to, gaze at old engines, furnaces, pipes, and other unidentifiable (to us, anyway) mechanisms. We arrived with about 30 minutes to spare before closing, but could have easily spent much more time wandering around inside and outside. Without having industrial knowledge, it is difficult to describe. Yet, it was my favorite place in Birmingham. To walk around in this place and imagine how it must have smelled, the sounds, the dust, the employees working long hours in the heat, is almost like stepping back in time.
There were a few engraved, informational plaques throughout the furnaces, but mostly it was unguided in all senses of the word. Nothing was blocked, though common sense tells you not to walk down the basement stairs that will lead to two inches of standing water in the same way that it tells you not to climb up the ladder to the ceiling even though it’s open and within reach. Having only experienced places where everything is so guarded, an opportunity to roam free and see everything on your own was amazing. The downside was that we couldn’t really answer our own questions, whereas a guide could have helped. However, we did not visit the gift shop and information desk before walking through (again, we were short on time) – but it would have been a good idea.
It seems like there would be many liability issues with open stairwells and so many mechanisms (albeit nonfunctional) within everyone’s reach. But I hope that the freedom for visitors of Sloss Furnaces remains because being able to slip around a corner and not feel like you’re on this forced path is a rare chance at historic sites. Some paths are clearly marked on the outside, but once inside it was the free roaming experience. Most of us cannot imagine what it was like to work during the industrial age. Visiting Sloss Furnaces increased my appreciation and awe for this period of history. I would gladly go back to spend a few hours (with more information to enhance my visit).
Because there are so many pictures to share, I’m including a gallery. Click on the photograph to get the larger image. Depending on your browser, you may be able to zoom in further. Some remain unlabeled because I do not know what it is.
One of the iconic American adventures is the cross-country road trip. Americans find road trips enthralling and glamorous, romanticized by ideas of the wind blowing, music playing, taking photographs, and bonding with your road trip companions, gas stations, rest stops, the middle of nowhere, adventure, no time commitments, and freedom. So many people imagine just packing up the car, driving away from the “real world” and having the time of their lives. The automobile and the highways have always given us tangible freedom.
Begin dreaming about the open road. Answer this: which roads would you drive? Would you take the interstate or small highways? Would you have a destination (or is the journey the destination)? Would you plan ahead? Would you know how to begin? It’s a lot to consider. What constitutes a road trip? How do you define it? To me, a road trip should be as little interstate as possible, stops off the road, sightseeing on the way, staying in a town just because it’s a good place to stop, good music, belongings packed into the car … you get the idea.
I don’t like interstates, unless there is not another option or it’s necessary to squeeze in a weekend trip and a long drive. Interstates are efficient and practical with rest stops, but generally, interstates are boring, incredibly boring. Driving across I-20 & I-85 in South Carolina & Georgia to and from Birmingham was one of my least favorite long drives (barring terrible traffic on I-95). The most exciting vision was the Gaffney, SC peach. However, I imagine that off the interstate would be a wonderful trip through small towns, big towns, the country, and a much better meeting with the states that the two – four lane interstates with billboards and shopping strips. Keep this in mind.
So, you are any average American citizen planning to travel across the country. Most of us will get directions from Google, MapQuest, AAA (and get free maps!), or the now common GPS. Very few of us can just start driving and use an atlas as we go; hence, the directions. Plus, having directions already can you plan for stops, saving time, energy, and money. The problem is that all of these methods send you by way of interstates, even if it’s not the shortest route. My mother recalls that AAA used to give scenic routes and helpful information, but in all of our recent experiences, it’s purely highlighting the route that MapQuest offers on the computer.
How are you supposed to see the best parts of America from the interstate? What if you want to take the scenic route, but don’t feel comfortable with just a map to guide you? As soon as you veer from the GPS’ directions, it tries to get you to turn around and head back to the intended route as soon as possible.
Consider a GPS program that would offer road trip ideas, itineraries, and routes. This would give people road trips who do not know where to begin or want something different. Or it would help to fuse the journey as part of the adventure. In fact, travelers can download turn-by-turn directions for a Route 66 adventure. And there is a Microsoft software program, Streets & Trips, that allows travelers to create their full trip itinerary, stops and all, ahead of time. It is a GPS receiver that plugs into a laptop, which needs to be plugged into your car and allows for rerouting and other alterations en route. Another GPS directed trip is from the GaperGuide, which allows people to take the driving tours of Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons National Park, offering information (history, stories, statistics, facts) about what visitors see along the way.
I can’t speak for any of these programs, but at least there are options for road trippers. However, if GPS scenic routes were created and people started traveling just a few roads, then problems of traffic, infrastructure, bypassing other places, etc. would possibly arise. Granted, there would be many issues to resolve. Perhaps the GPS programs could start with historic routes in addition to Route 66, like the Lincoln Highway or the Dixie Highway or US Route 11.
How would you plan your road trip? Any suggestions for routes? Yes or no to the GPS road trip idea?
A series of Wednesday posts about Birmingham, Alabama and the surrounding area. See Post #1. This is Post #2.
Most everyone who asks about our trip to Birmingham wants to know our first impressions, since they have not visited nor do they think of Birmingham in the modern day sense. What is there, they ask. My preservation influenced first impressions? Downtown Birmingham is an interesting place. And no, I don’t know what I expected because I hadn’t imagined visiting Birmingham until recently.
The afternoon began in the Arts district at a great locally owned coffee shop and cafe, Urban Standard. With exposed brick walls, locally made gifts, delicious food and cupcakes, antiques, wifi, and great coffee, it is certainly a nice place for breakfast, lunch, or coffee. This part of downtown was fairly busy, including the company of a herd of skateboarders going up and down the street while being filmed. Down the block are loft apartments and a few stores. It seems like the area is experiencing a resurgence of interest from citizens and many buildings are undergoing rehabilitation into apartments.
We walked around on a Saturday afternoon, a truly beautiful day with 70 degree, sunny weather, the first nice weekend of the season. Despite this, the city felt very empty in places. Near the government offices, this made sense since most people do not work on weekends. A few people, but not a crowd by any means, sat in beautiful park, Linn Park, in the center blocks of these buildings (courthouse, libraries, city hall). And the skateboarders appeared again. Linn Park will be the subject of a separate post.
After Linn Park, we walked down a typical historic streetscape, but one with very intriguing buildings that call upon decades earlier. Once again, this section seemed oddly lacking pedestrians. Some stores were in business, others in transitions, and still other buildings sat vacant.
One store, formerly Kessler’s, showcased an unusual storefront window. Today this building is being converted into seven loft apartments with commercial space on the first floor. See this University of Alabama – Birmingham article for a discussion on downtown Birmingham lofts. This was my favorite building and these pictures cannot do it justice (cars would have obstructed better photographs).
Another interesting storefront was the California Fashion Mall.
Further down on Third Avenue is the Alabama Theater, the showcase of the South, and one that deserves its own post.
Downtown Birmingham is large and small at the same time. Obviously, there is a lot to talk about – it won’t fit in one post. Before citizens of Birmingham correct me, let me clarify that I realize that Kelly Ingram Park is also in downtown Birmingham, as some other sites I mention will be; but some places such as Kelly Ingram Park deserve their own post. Granted, some of the talk is about empty buildings; however, don’t let that lead you to assume that Birmingham is sleeping and a boring place. As our friend and host said, you have to look for something to do, but there is a lot to be found, from little shops to events to art galleries to good restaurants and more. See his recommendations at bhamsandwich.com.
For those interested in early to mid century architecture, the streets of Birmingham provide endless entertainment. Birmingham seems like it’s an up-and-coming place, one that will revitalize itself with years of hard work by citizens and growing interest from the students of the numerous universities in and around Birmingham. Parts of downtown are a bit lonely, but not lonely in the sense of rundown and abandoned – just missing people. I would expect that more people will find their way downtown in the near future. But, now would be the time to visit so you can see the before and so you arrive before prices increase! It is an intriguing place.
More posts about downtown Birmingham attractions to come next Wednesday.
Sweet Home Alabama, where the skies are so blue.
As some vigilant readers may have noticed, Wednesdays tend to be travel days here at Preservation in Pink. This past weekend, Vinny and I visited a friend in Birmingham, Alabama. Our friend is a wonderful host and catered to our interests, which included a lot of preservation related sites. Thus, Birmingham posts will be a series. This is Alabama post #1, the Kelly Ingram Park in downtown Birmingham. Alabama posts will appear on Wednesdays for the next few weeks.
The Civil Rights District in downtown Birmingham, Alabama is a six block area recognizing important events of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Among these sites are the 16th Street Baptist Church and Kelly Ingram Park. The 16th Street Baptist Church, a National Historic Landmark, is the site of a September 1963 bombing that killed four young African American girls. The church had become the site of civil rights demonstrations and after the bombing, the United States and other nations around the world openly condemned segregation. See the HABS documentation of the 16th Street Baptist Church here from the Library of Congress – photographs and historical research and measured drawings.
On the opposite corner of 16th Street Church is Kelly Ingram Park, formerly known as West Park, where police and fireman attacked civil rights demonstrators in May 1963. Men, women, and children were hosed with high pressure fire hoses, beaten with policemen’s night sticks, and arrested. One man attacked by a police dog. Men, women, and children as young as six years old were arrested and jailed. Images of these tragic incidents were broadcasted all over the world. Seen in the above photograph is a statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the park.
Today, the four acre is park is home to the Freedom Walk, which leads visitors in a circle around the park through sculptures of the police dog attack, the fire hoses, and a jail cell. The park was named Kelly Ingram Park in 1932 for Osmond Kelly Ingram, a sailor in the U.S. Navy who died in World War I and received the Medal of Honor posthumously. In 1992 the park was renovated and rededicated with the Civil Rights Institute. Visitors may take an audio tour or their own self guided tour to enjoy the peacefulness of the park today. Seen below is the police dog attack sculpture in the park.
The park fountains.
Visitors to Huntington Beach State Park are free to walk through the site, no tour required, and investigate the rooms, take photographs, and sit in the courtyard. While I haven’t been there since summer 2007, I remember being very intrigued that this building was just subjected to the elements, constantly, and it was only serving as outdoor art, if you will. It recalls the discussion about buildings as museums, as livable spaces, or open to the casual observer. I think this particular “abandoned” building does serve a good purpose of public education and architectural intrigue since it is in a public park and not out in the middle of nowhere. But, how long can something be out in the elements before it needs conservation, without which, it will eventually fade away.
p.s. The state park is a great place to camp, picnic, swim, run, and spend an afternoon or a weekend.
p.p.s. click on each gallery photo for a larger image.
Late January – early February is the perfect time to visit Boston, probably because people assume it will be 20 degrees or colder. However, I seem to bring some warm weather from North Carolina every year that I visit. Boston is just a great city, and the only complaint that I have heard from people is about the cold winters. But other than that it has everything: public transportation, historic and unique neighborhoods, parks, all sorts of shops, beautiful historic buildings, modern buildings, universities, and good food. This past weekend Vinny and I visited Boston to see many high school and college friends. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Here’s a brief photo recap of some preservation highlights:
Since the majority of our group consisted of preservationists, it made sense to visit the Old South Church on Boylston Street in Copley Sqaure. We paid particular attention to the crack in the masonry. (Look for a post about that soon). If you look closely or zoom in, you can see the crack and the crack monitors.
We wandered through the sunny, snow covered Public Garden and gazed at the row houses on Commonwealth Avenue. I think it’s one of the prettiest streets I’ve ever seen. Had it been slightly warmer, we probably would have stopped to look at every house.
And lastly, here is our mini preservation reunion at Stephanie’s on Newbury for Sunday brunch. (Jen G was unable to join and Vinny took the photograph). While it’s not a historic restaurant, it is delicious food.
One of the best places to visit in Southern Pines is Gulley’s Garden Center. It’s more than your typical store with mulch, plants, and flower pots. It has been family owned and operated since 1974. Gulley’s is practically a separate world off Broad Street and the perfect place for exploring and daydreaming. It is also conveniently across the railroad tracks from the best coffee shop in town.
Gulley’s does have all of the garden supplies you could want, but there are also collections of rusted old farm equipment, historic gas pumps, many, many colorful flower pots, a windmill, a historic cottage with a military museum on the second floor, curved walkways to meander about, and the world’s largest private collection of “ole-time” wash pots. Aside from all of this, there is a Christmas Shop filled to the brim with anything and everything you need to decorate your tree and house.
It’s more fun to look at the photographs, so see below! Click on the photographs to view a larger version.
And these pictures are only a small portion of Gulley’s! This is small town America at it’s finest.