2012-09-20 / Family

Carrie Blast Furnace Fired Up after 30 Years

By Debra Erdley

PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW

BRADDOCK, Pa. (AP) – Carrie has come full circle.

The enormous blast furnace on the banks of the Monongahela has been cold for 30 years. But for a few moments on Saturday, iron flowed on the grounds of the hulking relic of the Industrial Age.

Docents with the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area led visitors on a tour of the mill that fired iron ore starting in 1884 for everything from the Panama Canal and the Empire State Building to the Golden Gate Bridge and the Alaska Pipeline.

As visitors stared in awe at the giant blast furnace that once produced 1,250 tons of iron a day, artist Ed Parrish of Hot Metal Happenings carefully tended a small cupola blast furnace he uses to melt recycled bathtubs and radiators that are then funneled into molds for plaques and art work.

“It’s pretty awesome,” Parrish said softly looking up at the plant’s abandoned powerhouse. “This is the first time since the mill shut down that any metals have been poured here.”

Maryann Ostrenga and her sister Claudia Reuteler, who traveled from Wisconsin, arrived for the tour after circling through Braddock and carefully driving the final quarter-mile to the mill along a crumbling and rutted road that runs along the railroad by the Mon.

“This is just amazing. Our grandparents met and married here, and our grandfather Edward Jacob Garnier helped start the mill in Gary, Ind.,” Ostrenga said.

Rivers of Steel is spearheading a drive to create a national park that would include 38 acres of the original Homestead Works just across the river from the Carrie Furnace site. The group provides weekend hard-hat tours of the Carrie Furnace site, a national historic landmark where two of the original blast furnaces and mill buildings remain a tribute to the region’s steel heritage dating to before the Civil War.

Like the Carrie Furnace site, which is fueled by solar power today, Rivers of Heritage volunteer docent Gary Condon has come full circle.

Condon, 61, of Washington was a pipe fitter and millwright at the Carrie Furnace until 1984, when he left as a member of the last crew mothballing the giant facility. After working as a coal miner for Consol Energy and finishing his engineering degree, he went on to become a researcher specializing in synthetic diamonds for industrial uses.

“My grandfather worked here from 1917 to 1956. My dad was here from 1939 to 1980, and I was here from 1970 to 1984. Among us we had 101 years in the mill,” he said, recalling the deafening sounds of rail cars booming and banging and sirens and whistles blowing through the facility.

“Now we can hear crickets and birds and there’s a huge herd of deer here,” he said pointing to the weed field surrounding the ghostly mill.

Today, graffiti adorns the dark walls of the long stock house and trestle that was used to move ore to the furnace, and a giant deer head artists constructed of discarded wire faces the cold furnace.

Condon explains how coke, iron ore and limestone were used to make iron ingots at the Carrie Furnace that were then transported across the river to the Homestead Works, where they were fired into steel.

He remembers the Thursday morning in 1982 when a guard at the plant gate told him union officers were to gather in the superintendent’s office at 10 a.m.

At the meeting, they were informed the furnaces would be shut down on Saturday.

Condon said one of the workers asked when the furnace would be relit.

“He said, ‘Fellas, we’re never going to start them up again.’ And just like that, 550 workers got word they would be out of work in two days,” Condon said.

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