Skip to Main Content

Boilers at the Sloss complex.
Boilers at the Sloss complex.

The Sloss Furnaces

Field review by the editors.

Birmingham, Alabama

Industrial-ruin tourism has a certain post-apocalyptic allure, but it's usually tempered by fears of vicious dogs, crippling injury, imprisonment, and lockjaw.

Maze of pipes inside giant outdoor former ironworks furnaces.

How fortunate are we, then, to have The Sloss Furnaces. Visitors can wander around an immense, rusting, turn-of-the-20th-century blast furnace, and never worry about trespassing. It's a national historic landmark!

The Sloss Furnaces were built 100+ years ago when Birmingham was an iron industry boom town (with an honorary statue of Vulcan). In its heyday, Sloss -- only a few blocks east of the city's center -- smelted over a thousand tons of pig iron a day.

That ended in 1971, run out of business by foreign competition and the Clean Air Act. Sloss lay abandoned for ten years, acquiring the entropic crust of decay and overgrowth that every good ruin needs. Birmingham then spent months sandblasting, painting, planting flowers and grass, and sprucing up the place into something that it did not resemble when it was making pig iron, and opened it to the public.

Had you toured Sloss when it was still in business, you probably wouldn't have seen much; the smoke and searing waves of heat would ruin your view. You also might have been suffocated by poisonous gases, or simply fallen into the furnace, ruining a perfectly good batch of pig iron. It happened with Sloss workers on more than one occasion.

Rust-red pipes and tanks of giant outdoor former ironworks furnaces.

Nowadays the fumes and smoke are gone, and Sloss is a magical, rusty red mini-city of towering domed blast stoves and smoke stacks; an 18-acre urban oasis on a sunny day. Guardrails are a cheery safety yellow, trees and shrubs grow in the pig caster and stock trestle. Numbered interpretive signs, part of the self-guided tour, explain furnace equipment and processes.

Shutterbugs wander the grounds between the giant slag buckets, through the drippy skip hoist tunnel, around the maze of pipes in the blower building. There's a nice view of the entire complex from a platform atop Furnace Number One. A stroll along the boardwalk in the vast boiler shed is like walking down the nave of a medieval cathedral whose roof has half-blown away.

Rust-red tanks and silver water tower of giant outdoor former ironworks furnaces.

The organization running Sloss likes to emphasize its human side -- the people who worked there -- but that approach has taken an unexpected turn with the rise of ghost tourism, which is only interested in people who are dead.

Thanks to the cable show Ghost Adventures, Sloss is now known for its haunting by an evil foreman, "Slag," who reportedly worked his employees to death and was eventually pushed into the furnace.

Unfortunately for those ghost fans who care about an apparition's credibility, Slag never existed. "We get a lot of questions about Slag," said Sloss marketing officer Rachael Verschoore. "Ghost Adventures came down and talked to our Halloween 'Fright Furnace' crew. They told them about Slag, a legend they had created, and I guess Ghost Adventures assumed it was true."

21st century Sloss doesn't need Slag. It isn't about pig iron any more, it's about atmosphere: weathered brick, old electrical gizmos, rusty oversized smelting tools. Artists work in the power house, concerts are held in the cast shed, after-hours wine and cheese tasters stroll the grounds, and tourists like us run around and think we're snapping arty photos -- probably to the bafflement of the ghosts of the iron workers.

The Sloss Furnaces

20 32nd St. N., Birmingham, AL
Take 1st Ave./US 11/Hwy 7 northeast of downtown, over the viaduct, and past the Furnaces on the right. Turn left onto 34th St., then left onto 2nd Ave., then left again onto 32nd St. Drive to the overpass. The entrance to Sloss is directly under the overpass; turn right and follow underneath to get to the parking lot.
T-Sa 10-4, Su 12-4. Lit at night. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Full Moon MuralFull Moon Mural, Birmingham, AL - < 1 mi.
Birthplace of Veterans DayBirthplace of Veterans Day, Birmingham, AL - 1 mi.
Heaviest Corner on EarthHeaviest Corner on Earth, Birmingham, AL - < 1 mi.
In the region:
Crenelated Concrete Water Tower, Marvel, AL - 28 mi.

More Quirky Attractions in Alabama

Stories, reports and tips on tourist attractions and odd sights in Alabama.

Explore Thousands of Unique Roadside Landmarks!

Strange and amusing destinations in the US and Canada are our specialty. Start here.
Use's Attraction Maps to plan your next road trip.

My Sights

My Sights on Roadside America

Create and Save Your Own Crazy Road Trip! ...Try My Sights

Mobile Apps

Roadside America app: iPhone, iPad Roadside America app for iPhone, iPad. On-route maps, 1,000s of photos, special research targets! ...More

Roadside Presidents app: iPhone, iPad Roadside Presidents app for iPhone, iPad. POTUS landmarks, oddities. ...More

Alabama Latest Tips and Stories

Latest Visitor Tips

Sight of the Week

Sight of the Week

World's Largest Cat, Pine Island, New York (Apr 22-28, 2024)

SotW Archive

USA and Canada Tips and Stories

More Sightings