Iron Works enthusiasts aim to preserve history

Enthusiasts helping to expand and renovate Shelby Iron Works Park say lessons can be learned from that failed company’s history.

“All of Shelby was a company town,” said Dan Valles, a member of the Historic Shelby Association and festival coordinator for the May 16 Shelby Iron Works History and Homestead Day.

“The company built the churches, the schools, the store. We can learn from history, and people can look at this community today and learn lots. When the company shut down, the entire town felt the impact. We are barely a shadow of what we used to be.”

Shelby Iron Works was a going concern from about 1860, which Valles said was its “heyday,” until about the 1890s. It officially shut down in 1929, he said.

“We would have been the next Birmingham because of the industrial base we had here, but they found coal as well as iron north of here in the Birmingham area and it was cheaper to mine both of those there.”

The former Shelby Iron Works was founded by Horace Ware. Today, the Historic Shelby Association owns the property that was the company’s park, which is located on Highway 42, just two blocks west of Highway 47, turning toward Calera. The park is less than a 10-minute drive from Columbiana and is “right across from where he actual furnaces and refining warehouses were. That property is in private hands, unfortunately,” Valles said.

He described happenings at the May 16 festival as a living history presentation. He said the association’s focus is to educate and preserve history.

“We want people to come see the museum and experience some of the history we are trying to preserve,” Valles said. “We will be making hominy and shucking corn and much more.”

The festival will feature music from dulcimer and harmonica players, country cooking such as beans, greens, cornbread and boiled peanuts, displays of engines and machines from yesteryear, a display of old tractors, cars and antique fire trucks, an exhibit of authentic Civil War weaponry, craft vendors and a raffle of gift baskets and a quilt.

The highlight of the festival will be the unveiling of plans for rebuilding the train depot at the park.

The festival will begin at about 9 a.m. and conclude at 5 p.m. Admission to the festival is free, and there will be no charge for parking.