Historic Shelby Association uncovers history in donated land

Published 7:37 pm Monday, March 25, 2013

By Linda Long/Special to the Reporter

SHELBY – Armed with a Bobcat utility machine and a small excavator, members of the Historic Shelby Association feel a little like treasure hunters these days. They’re clearing 12.7 acres of donated land that eventually will be part of Shelby Iron Works Park on Highway 42 in south Shelby County.

“We’re cutting through brambles, mimosa and privet right now,” said Jerry Willis, association board member and historian. “We’ve cleared a path up to the old chemical plant and have only recently uncovered the actual furnace sites.”

Explaining the historical significance of these finds, Willis said the furnaces predate Birmingham.

“They stood 60 and 65 ft high and at full production they could turn out several tons of iron a day. Getting this property was really the boost we needed. In fact, the property could one day actually be the park ‘centerpiece,’” he said.

Willis said the land was deeded to the Historic Association by Buchanan Forest Management out of Selma to be used for the Shelby Iron Works park. In addition to the remains of the two furnaces, the land also contains the frame of the Shelby Chemical Company building.

“We don’t really know what all is in there,” said Hylott Armstrong, Shelby Historic Association board member. “We think it could possibly be an important archeological site. We don’t know what remnants of these important historic facilities and perhaps other artifacts will be found. Clearing the plant growth is just the beginning of a process of exploring secrets this property has hidden over the years.”

According to Willis, the volunteer workers have cleaned about a quarter of the property so far.

“We don’t have a projected completion date,” he said. “That depends on how quickly we can raise funds to finish the job. We’ve made great strides in building the park during the last three or four years. All money we raise goes back into maintaining facilities.”

Willis said he is looking forward to the day when the newest 12 acres is open to the public and a functioning part of the existing park. When it is clear and secured, the area will be open for tours.