The Alabama Historical Ironworks Commission recently joined the Cherokee County Historical Society to officially designate the Round Mountain Furnace site in Cherokee County.
The ceremony was held at the foot of Round Mountain located on Cherokee County Road 48 approximately 2.6 miles off Highway 273.
The project was funded through a grant from the Tillotson-Menlo Charitable Foundation and the Cherokee County Historical Society.
Noting that the project is “long overdue,” Jason Clowdis, president, Cherokee County Historical Society, shared a few words and welcomed some 40 to 50 guests who attended.
“I am glad we are able to get out and recognize the furnace which plays such an important role in the county’s history,” said Clowdis.
“A lot of people don’t even know that this furnace existed. Thanks to this historic marker today, not only are they going to know that it existed, they are going to know the furnace’s story as well as where it was.”
Clowdis introduced Jim Bennett with the Alabama Historic Ironworks Commision, who is commissioner of the Alabama Department of Labor.
He is also the historian for the Tannehill Ironworks State Parks Iron and Steel Museum of Alabama and a noted author, having written some books about the history of iron works in Alabama.
“It is great to be back here on Round Mountain,” said Bennett. “We are right here at the base of it and there is a lot of history in these hills.
“Knowing the hard work that Jason and the other members of the society have put in on this, those of us that work in historic preservation are most appreciative of your good efforts to help mark this site. We are here today to take note of what went on here so many years ago that so many of even your local residents are had forgotten and it is refreshing to talk to some folks here that actually remember some of the remnants of that history. I fear that far too many people in this county and across the state have lost track of the great industrial history of this state.”
ROUND MOUNTAIN from 1A
“The Alabama Historic Ironworks commission is pleased to join the Cherokee county Historical Society in placing this marker at this sight where Moses Stroup erected the Round Mountain Furnace way back in 1852,” said Bennett. “We at Tannehill hold Moses Stroup up as one of our most revered characters in our furnance near Birmingham because he built that one too. So we feel a particular kinship with you folks here at Round Mountain. I have brought Marty Everse with me, the former director of Tannehill State Park and former executive director of the Ironworks commission and his wife Helon. My wife, Andrea, is also present.”
Stroup’s father, Bennett said, built the Cane Creek Furnace near present day Anniston and they were well-known furnace builders throughout the south. Moses himself was in constant search of new iron ore and Round Mountain was the first furnace to use the red iron ore found in Red Mountain near the dedication sight.
“At this furnace, Mr. Stroup made hollow ware, kettles, machinery and pig iron that was sent to foundries to be recast and into other products,” said Bennett. “This early day furnace was 32 feet high. It was eight feet wide in its largest width and it was powered by steam which was really a modern innovation for that time. He employed 45 people. He did sell this plant in 1855 and headed to Tannehill to build three more furnaces there and during the Civil War, the Confederate Government persuaded him to build two furnances at Oxmoor which is close to present day Homewood if you know where that is in 1863.”
“And the reason I think the Confederacy asked Mr. Stroup to leave Tannehill to go to Oxmoor was because that is where red ore was also and that is what you had here,” said Bennett. “Back in those days, most furnaces used brown ore which was a different variety and they thought this red ore was inferior but as it turned out, it was really better maybe in many ways than the brown ore”
“It is amazing to me that Mr. Stroup found his way from here all the way to Tannehill back in 1855 when he finally left Round Mountain,” said Bennett. “He was a brilliant furnance builder in his day and he is someone that we also ought to remember.”
According to historical information, federal troops attacked the Round Mountain plant in 1864 and it remained idle untl J.M. Elliott rebuilt the works in 1874, Englarged, it could produce more than 5,000 tons of iron a year, most of the product going into rail car wheels manufactured in Gadsden.
“This plant operated until 1906, when it was shut down and scrapped,” said Bennett. “Interestingly enough, this was the first furnace in the state that ever used red iron ore which pointed the way to the development of the massive iron industry in Birmingham.”
“It is appropriate that this marker designate the sight of one of our state’s most historic early iron works,” said Bennett. “Actually this is the fourth oldest ironworks in Alabama. It is certainly worth noting in the history of this state and then the annals of this county and people driving down this road in the future, I am sure will stop and think about what went on here.”
On behalf of the Alabama Ironworks commission and the Cherokee County Historical Society, Clowdis extended appreciation to Jim Lewis, a local historian, who tracked down the information on Round Mountain Furnace and also helped put the marker in and dig the hole for the marker.
David Crum, curator, Cherokee County Historical Museum, applied for the Tillotson-Menlo grant funds which covered most of the cost of the marker with the Cherokee County Historical Society covering the rest.
“I would like to thank Mr. Jeff Jones,” said Clowdis. “He is the property owner that owns this land that the furnace is on. He allowed us to go out here and snoop around and verify that we were at the correct location.”
“We would like to thank the Cherokee County commissioners and the Cherokee County Highway Department for allowing us to put this marker in their right of way,” said Clowdis. “They also provided us with the field dirt that you see here and lastly, the Cherokee County Historical Society members. Through their participation, they were the final piece that made this marker possible.”
“You’ve got a great historic site here,” said Bennett. “I hope the county will support this because this really tells the story of the history of your great county.”