The Carrie Furnaces were built in 1881 as part of U.S. Steel's Homestead Works, a sprawling 400-acre complex that spanned both sides of the Monogahela river. They produced up to 1,250 tons of steel a day until 1978 when they were closed. While the majority of the site was razed for developments that never materialized (and a shopping center that did), the 100-foot high furnaces still stand; now they are an extremely rare example of pre-WWII ironmaking technology. The furnaces were designated as a national historic landmark in 2006 and preservation efforts are underway.
While I was originally planning to visit Carrie Furnaces with my girlfriend at the time during a trip to Pittsburgh for one of her friend's weddings, she wasn't feeling well that day and so I wound up going alone. Visiting the furnaces is a pretty arduous experience, involving a decent amount of hiking and climbing and backtracking and more hiking, all to get to a site that is mostly about more climbing.
It's hard not to feel your heart leap a little in your chest, though, when you look out across the flat field the furnaces are located in and see them towering over the skyline in a tangle of pipes and vines and machinery. The blast furnaces are approximately 280 feet tall, I'm told, and climbing onto the elevated railway and the gantry crane are not to be missed either. I tend to get a bit of vertigo because I'm not the best with heights, but I feel good about pushing myself to do what I need to and confronting it anyway. Even though it's hard not to imagine the crumbling platforms atop the blast furnaces giving way and dumping you to your death below, it seems worth it when you can look out across the horizon as though you are king of all that you survey, or when you see the brilliant rusty reds contrasting with the autumn leaves.
Since I visited, a local preservation group called Rivers of Steel have been running small tours periodically and doing some work to stabilize and preserve the site. I'm not entirely sure that the site can be preserved, since much of the metal is so rusted that it would need to be replaced entirely and the furnaces are so enormous and intricate. Still, it's great that they're making the effort to share it, because even if it only gives the furnaces a few extra years for the public to appreciate them, it will be worth the effort in my opinion. Homestead Steel was the largest steelmaker in the world during its heyday, and the entire plant has been razed for a shopping complex across the river. The Carrie Furnaces, the hot metal bridge, and the lonely torpedo car sitting in the field are some of the last vestiges of an empire that defined the area, for good and for bad.
Abandoned America photography workshops are periodically held at the Carrie Furnaces; if you'd like to check pricing and availability click here. If you'd like to learn more about Carrie, it is a featured chapter in the new Abandoned America book Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences. Signed copies are available through my website, or you can find (unsigned) copies available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and many other online booksellers across the globe. I also teach photography workshops here periodically; to check availability follow this link.
Photographs and unattributed text by Matthew Christopher. For more images click the thumbnails below.