Brierfield Ironworks Historical State Park is a 45-acre park in Bibb County located between Centreville and Montevallo. It preserves the site of an important Civil War-era ironworks and rolling mill. The park was established in 1976 by the Bibb County Commission at the urging of the Bibb County Heritage Association.
Brierfield Ironworks' history began in 1862, when the Bibb County Iron Company, headed by Caswell Huckabee, built a 36-foot-high brick blast furnace at the site. The ironworks quickly caught the attention of the Confederacy; desperate for iron, in 1862 the Confederate government passed laws allowing it to loan funds for the construction of ironworks and similar war-related industries. Huckabee, the moving force behind the ironworks, signed a contract to build a new rolling mill (which produced plate armor for ironclad ships and other purposes) at the site and to provide the Confederacy 1,000 tons of pig iron per year.
In 1863, the Confederate government ordered the Bibb Iron Company either to sell all the iron produced at the works to the Confederacy, sell or lease the ironworks to the Confederacy, or have the facility confiscated. The company opted to sell the facility, along with nine slaves and numerous oxen, mules, carts, and tools, to the Confederacy for $600,000, making it the only ironworks owned by the Confederacy. Confederate officials completed the rolling mill, constructed a new 40-foot brick furnace, and ran a rail line to the facility. The iron produced at the site was shipped to the Selma Ordnance and Naval Foundry in Dallas County, where it was fashioned into cannon and plate armor. On March 31, 1865, Union troops under the command of Gen. James H. Wilson attacked and destroyed the ironworks in the closing weeks of the war.
Josiah Gorgas, the former chief of ordnance for the Confederacy who oversaw its industrial development and later president of the University of Alabama, formed the Canebrake Company in October 1866 and bought and rehabilitated the ironworks site, naming it the Brierfield Coal and Iron Company. The rebuilt furnace began producing iron almost immediately, but by July 1867 both the furnace and rolling mill were shut down. Gorgas left the company in 1869, and the facility was leased from 1869 through 1873 by Thomas Alvis, who had operated blast furnaces in Virginia. After Alvis's company went bankrupt, the ironworks lay idle until 1881. The Canebrake Company sold the ironworks in 1881, and although it was operated until 1894, its technology, once cutting edge, had become so obsolete that it was shut down permanently. In the years before the park was created, the ironworks site was scavenged for any useable materials, but otherwise it lay unused.
The Brierfield Furnace was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974; the application was prepared by Mike Mahan of Brierfield, whose great-aunt was artist Adelaide Mahan. In 1976, the Bibb County Heritage Association persuaded the Bibb County Commission to create a 45-acre park encompassing the ironworks; as a result, the Brierfield Ironworks Historical State Park opened in 1978. In 1979, the Heritage Association ceded oversight of the park to a new entity, the Brierfield Ironworks Commission, which was established by the Bibb County Commission. This commission gave way to the Brierfield Ironworks Park Foundation (BIPF) in the mid-1980s. In 1990, BIPF transferred control to the Tannehill Furnace and Foundry Commission, later renamed the Alabama Historic Ironworks Commission, a state agency that consists of 18 members appointed by the governor and also operates Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park.
The park features a number of attractions. In addition to the ruins of the two furnaces, both covered by large metal canopies, several different historical buildings have been moved into the park, including Mulberry Church, Ashby Post Office, Adelaide Mahan's studio, five log cabins, and a large Victorian farm house. The Ashby Post Office is used for meetings and receptions, and several other buildings, including the log Brierfield Lodge, provide accommodations for overnight visitors. The Brierfield superintendent's house, part of the original National Register listing, has been renovated and will host a park welcome center and ranger station. The house originally was occupied by the superintendent of the rolling mill. The park also has both primitive camp sites for tents and improved camp sites with electricity and water hook-ups for recreational vehicles, a "country store," and a swimming pool.
The University of Alabama conducted an archaeological dig at the park in 1995, and from 1996-2006, the University of Montevallo's Continuing Education Department organized volunteers to conduct excavations in the park.
Events at the park include a military vehicle show held in September and a Halloween Bash held at the end of October. The park also has a popular shooting range used for exhibitions and competitions.
Brierfield Ironworks Historical State Park has two full-time and up to six part-time employees; its funding is largely self-generated,
although it has received state funding in the past. The annual number of visitors is approximately 63,500; the park is a popular
spot for Boy Scout and Girl Scout events and family reunions.
Bennett, James R. and Karen R. Utz. Iron & Steel: A Guide to Birmingham Area Industrial Heritage Sites. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010.
Woodward, Joseph H., II. Alabama Blast Furnaces. Birmingham, Ala.: Woodward Iron Company, 1940.
James P. Kaetz
Published December 8, 2011
Last updated October 26, 2012