Hovering in the sky surrounded by rust and refuse, at the jagged summit of a manmade mountain. Between the wide slits of the suspended catwalk and the low railing, it was easy to imagine that I was hovering in the sky over this steel furnace, rather than on it.
I caught my breath.
Then as I closed my eyes, rested the back of my head gently on the warped catwalk and let the morning breeze dry the sweat from my face, I thought.
Clouds passing overhead turned from a stormy silver to flickering yellow, as if the sunrise had ignited the air, burning away the last night’s mist and opening the day’s curtain. Warmth came slowly to me on my perch. Because of the breeze, maybe, or the historic vertigo one feels when they feel the rush of time beneath them.
From that spot I would have seen Pittsburgh’s hazy downtown—hazy now from the overcast weather, for a change, not engulfed in the haze of acrid steel smoke—or I could look down and watch the moment where fruit bats and finches competed for the droning dew-soaked insects. But I saw none of this, because I kept my eyes closed.
Soon the screeching relented to chirping, and the dull orange glow throbbing through my eyelids begged me to simply sit up and watch. Somewhere not too far away a factory’s start-up alarm sounded—a familiar sound to anyone from an industrial town.
Such alarms say, alternatingly, “They’re up, why aren’t you?” and “You better be careful or you’ll lose a leg!”.
I cannot recall which of these sunk in first, but decided that it was about time that I got out my camera and finished the job. One side at a time I blinked-out the rest of the salty remains of my climb up, sat up straight, and for a moment considered the active plant across the river, then stood up.
Abandoned blast furnaces make little noise unless the wind decides to race through them like lost cats, and then there is just a barely noticeable fuss of clunking and scraping.
If you happen to be passing by the deer head or Blower House, consider those metallic echoes a whisper of, “Welcome to Carrie Furnaces.”
Between 1881 and 1986, there was a humming, grinding, screeching noise rising from the banks of the Monongahela River west of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was a Carnegie operation after the famously wealthy tycoon bought it in 1889, a time when it became known as the Homestead Steel Works. If the name ‘Homestead’ sounds familiar, it is probably because of the Battle of Homestead, a clash between union steelworkers and private security that took place at the steel plant in July of 1892.
Henry Clay Frick had a history of breaking unions, so when he lowered the pay of the general laborers and locked out the union workers, it did not come as a surprise. This created a competition between nonunion and union men, though, something the union (Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steelworkers) countered by organizing street security patrols.
Because the nonunion workers were intimidated, plant management, led by Frick, hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to protect the factory and their unorganized employees. When two barges of Pinktertons landed, the former workers greeted them on the shore, and they waged a small battle. Three Pinkertons and seven union workers died. 8000 National Guardsmen were mobilized and occupied the works for almost 100 days. The union dissolved soon after, and did not return until 1936.
US Steel acquired the Homestead works in 1901, one year after the ‘Hot Metal Bridge’ was built nearby, so called because it carried molten metal from the furnaces to the casting plant. The first decade of the 1900s also saw construction of furnaces #6 and 7, the two that still exist, which produced a combined 1000 tons of steel daily.
Carrie powered down in 1978 and has been an official National Landmark since 2006. It is currently being developed into a tourable park.