On this cold March morning, we are “on the go” to Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park near McCalla, Alabama. Several of my friends have suggested that I visit Tannehill, so we are finally paying the park a visit to discover what it has to offer. As usual, I want to arrive at sunrise (the official park opening) to take advantage of that wonderful morning light, but this 28 degree morning made me wonder if braving the cold would be worthwhile.
A short walk from the Tannehill parking lot brings you to the banks of Roupes Creek. It is a beautiful scene as the freezing temperature was causing steam-like water vapor to rise from the creek in the early morning light. Most of the campers were still asleep which contributed a surprising and welcome level of serenity to the moment. What a great way to start the day! Suddenly, I no longer cared about the cold.
To the right is a row of old log cabins which, from Mid-March through November, house a variety of artisans. Tannehill boasts one of the largest collections of historic building in the Deep South with a display of over 45 structures dating from 1840 through 1923. The cabin in the picture below is the Wendell Stewart House of 1877.
Climbing a few stairs and a short hike brings you to the park’s main attraction, the Tannehill Furnace. In my blog “Hiking in Red Mountain Park,” I briefly describe the importance of iron and steel in the growth and development of Birmingham, Alabama. With the 1830 construction of a foundry at Tannehill, this site is considered by many to be the birthplace of Birmingham’s iron and steel industry. Over the years, the building of several additional furnaces increased capacity to 22 tons of pig iron per day and made Tannehill Furnace a major supplier of iron for the Selma Amory during the Civil War. On March 31, 1860, Tannehill Furnace was attacked and burned by three companies of the 8th Iowa Cavalry under the command of Capt. William A. Sutherland during a skirmish known as Wilson’s Raid. Today, the remains of the structure, including some restoration done in the 1970’s, represent one of the best remaining examples of a 19th century ironworks facility in the South.
From here, we will retrace our steps and explore the Grist Mill Trail. This paved one-mile walk follows a ridge far above Roupes Creek and the campgrounds below. On this particular morning, the smell of bacon being cooked came wafting over the ridge, reinforcing my contention that everything is better with bacon. You will find three major park attractions at the end of this trail. To the right is the Pioneer Farm where, in season, you can visit a working blacksmith shop. Straight ahead is Farley Field where you can shop at the Tannehill Trade Days on the third weekend of each month from March through November. To the left, is the John Wesley Hall Grist Mill.
John Wesley Hall’s Grist Mill is located in a stunningly gorgeous setting on Mill Creek just below the Mill Creek Dam. The mill is a faithful reproduction, built in 1976, of the original mill that ran here from 1867 to 1931. Although closed on the day I visited, this operating mill makes the corn meal sold at the Park’s Country Store.
Retracing our steps once again, we return to the area near the Tannehill Furnace and explore the trailhead of the Slave Quarters Trail. An easy, flat, and peaceful one-mile trail that parallels the Grist Mill Trail in returning to Farley Field, the Slave Quarters Trail was once the main thoroughfare for traffic in this area during the time of the Civil War.
Ruh rho! It looks like there are a few fellows here that didn’t get the memo that the war was over. Are they planning to repel a Yankee attack? Is the South going to rise again?
Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park has many activities planned throughout the year, and on this particular weekend, I was delighted to discover that they were presenting the Civil War Living History program. Traditionally presented on Memorial Day Weekend, a few years ago the program was rescheduled to March to better align the program with the school year.
I asked one of the soldiers about the day’s plan of attack (schedule) and he responded with uncertainty stating, “Half of our army has been taken out by the freezing rain and sleet over the past two days.” The plan had been to camp here from Thursday through today and to perform demonstrations for school groups, but when they closed the schools because of the weather, it necessitated a change in plans.
The remaining brave survivors spent the morning talking to park visitors about life in the Confederate Army. These folks were very knowledgeable and spoke at length about their uniforms, weapons, and other accoutrements. Apparently, the Confederate States of America were unable to equip their soldiers properly, so most of their outfits consisted of a combination of what they brought from home and what they found (or stole) along the way. The South had plenty of cotton, but wool and leather was in short supply. As one rebel said, “If you want some real good boots, you gotta git ‘em off a dead Federal.”
Although it was disappointing that they did not have a large enough army to perform a reenactment, I thoroughly enjoyed spending the morning learning from these volunteers. Their love of all things related to the history of the Civil War shone through their presentations and I appreciate that they took the time to come out and share their stories with all of the Tannehill visitors.
The Iron and Steel Museum of Alabama is also located at Tannehill State Park. The museum features demonstrations of the iron making process, exhibitions of Civil War artifacts, and displays of machinery used in the 1800’s. There is a nominal addition fee required to tour the museum, which is open on Tuesday through Sunday year-round. Click here for hours of operation and additional information.
Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park is comprised of over 1500 acres for you to camp, fish, hike, ride bikes, explore historic buildings, and participate in a variety of year-round activities. On this outing, we have just scratched the surface of everything that is available here, and I look forward to returning soon. The address for Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park is 12632 Confederate Parkway, McCalla, AL 35111, just 30 minutes from downtown Birmingham. For additional information, click here for the official website.
Have you been to Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park? Please post your experiences or questions in the comments section below.