Recreating Shelby history

Published 7:34 pm Monday, October 6, 2008

At the Shelby Iron Works park volunteers want sparks from the blacksmith shop and fresh-ground corn from the grist mill to enliven memories and curiosity of what Shelby once was.

Lifelong Shelby resident Jerry Willis said things were all together different when he was a child.

“The steam engine ran eight hours a day, six days a week and there was lumber everywhere you could look,” Willis said. “Ore was still being mined and the old town over here was bustling — as much as it could bustle.”

The men and women of the Shelby Historical Society are gearing up for the 19th annual Shelby Iron Works Festival Oct. 11-12. They’ve loaded logs behind the sawmill and harvested sugar cane to make jars of syrup. Volunteers have spent hours after work and over weekends to make sure everything is ready to go.

John Brasher said the aim is worth the effort.

“Everybody local has always known of the iron works but most people didn’t know the scope and that it was the largest in the state,” Brasher said. “We want people to be able to see how our forefathers did it and preserve our heritage.”

This summer member Daniel Valles took on the task of renovating the park’s museum. He’s cleaned out the cottage used to store artifacts and found a new way to display it all.

“We basically pulled it all down and started from scratch,” Valles said. “It has been good for what we are trying to do because we are trying to create a walking path where people can go along and learn about each part of town life.”

The museum, when completed, takes visitors through what life in a company town would have been like. It displays church benches from an old Shelby church, and actual switch crossing from the railroad, an actual moonshine still and typewriters from the administration offices of the company.

The historical society was able to complete the renovations through an $8,000 grant the received last year from the Shelby County Commission.

“We want to make it for the sole purpose of having school groups and educational groups to come in and see a part of history,” Valles said. “It’s also good for the older folks who might come in and remember things about their lives growing up.”

Aside from touring the museum, festival-goers can see an actual syrup mill grist mill, blacksmith, 1870’s saw mill and woodcarvers in action. They can also observe living Civil War history through a reenactment by the 33rd Alabama Infantry, an antique car and tractor show and tractor parade.

The Shelby Iron Works Park is located four and a half miles South of Columbiana on Highway 42. For more information: call 669-2465.