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An Iconic Symbol—the Carrie Blast Furnaces

By September 10, 2021Blog
The Carrie Blast Furnaces in 1988
The Carrie Blast Furnaces in 1988. Photo from the Rivers of Steel Archives.

By August Carlino, President and Chief Executive Officer

August R. CarlinoSaving the Carrie Blast Furnaces and Envisioning Tomorrow

After the recent announcement by Allegheny County and the Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC) that they have entered into a partnership to redevelop the Carrie Furnace site, Rivers of Steel’s President and CEO August Carlino reflected on our organization’s role in the process—historically, presently, and in the future.

An Iconic Symbol of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Industrial Legacy

In 1989 a group of concerned partners from Pittsburgh and Homestead rallied together to call attention to the need to save the Carrie Blast Furnaces as an iconic symbol of our region’s legacy as the Steelmaking Capital of the World. Those partners—residents, business leaders, community groups, and historical organizations—encountered much resistance, with many dismissing the idea as without merit, an obstacle to economic development, an impediment to job-creating, and a barrier to the redevelopment of the old mill site. Undeterred, that same group of partners created an organization that would eventually lead the preservation efforts at Carrie and work with communities throughout southwestern Pennsylvania to help conserve their industrial and cultural heritage.  Today, 31 years later, Rivers of Steel celebrates the recent announcement by the Regional Industrial Development Corporation and Allegheny County to redevelop the Carrie Furnace site, with the historic blast furnaces as a central element to its revitalization.

A semi-developed brownfield

The remaining structures of the Carrie Blast Furnaces can be seen across the river from Homestead as the Waterfront was being developed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Photo from the Rivers of Steel Archives.

Working Together

With this announcement by Allegheny County and the RIDC, the primary goal of Rivers of Steel has come to fruition. The redevelopment of our industrial sites can be accomplished without the erasure of the history that is the identity of our communities and the legacy of our region. RIDC and Rivers of Steel have a long track record of working in partnership to advance the development of industrial sites in southwestern Pennsylvania. Rivers of Steel’s work with RIDC dates back to the early 1990s when we assisted RIDC with documenting and preserving industrial artifacts and documents at the former U.S. Steel sites in Duquesne and McKeesport. Our work together helped RIDC meet federal historic mitigation requirements resulting in the release of public funds used for redevelopment. Because RIDC appreciates the region’s industrial heritage, the former steel mill sites at Duquesne and McKeesport function as modern industrial campuses that showcase industrial technology of the 21st century on sites that were considered “high tech” locales constructed and operated in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

As successful as these sites have been, the opportunity at Carrie Furnaces, with the Blast Furnaces as a central component of the site’s redevelopment, will be unique in the world. Allegheny County’s leadership resulted in the formation of a Carrie Furnaces Redevelopment Steering Committee that includes Rivers of Steel, representatives of the Boroughs of Rankin, Swissvale, and Braddock, the Woodland Hills School District, and the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County. This working partnership has endured trials but persevered: not only accomplishing the early work to prepare the site for this development opportunity but also ensuring that the National Historic Landmark—Carrie Blast Furnaces Numbers 6 & 7—remain a focal point for the site, the surrounding communities, Pittsburgh, and southwestern Pennsylvania.

A group in hard hat walk through the ore yard in front of the Carrie Blast Furnaces.

A hard hat tour of the Carrie Blast Furnaces, late spring 2021.

Stewardship of the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark

As stewards of the National Historic Landmark, Rivers of Steel has worked since 2005 to make the Carrie Blast Furnaces Numbers 6 & 7 accessible to the community and visitors to the region. As a result, today visitors can participate in interpretive tours, educational programs, art exhibits and workshops, and special festivals and events on a site that was historically walled off from any type of community access. Rivers of Steel’s stewardship has also included investing in stabilizing and preserving the historic structure and raising significant private and government funding to ensure its survival as a monument to the region’s nationally significant industrial heritage.

At the beginning of 2021, Rivers of Steel began working on a comprehensive strategic plan for the historic site. This plan focuses on interpretation and exhibition, arts and culture, education, and recreation. It will inform a conceptual site plan to ensure that the proper infrastructure and resources are in place to meet these programmatic goals. In addition, the conceptual site plan will lead to a business plan and fundraising strategy to make these goals and visions a reality. This process includes integrating the historic site within the larger development, working closely with the county, RIDC, and the municipalities.

Rivers of Steel envisions that the Carrie Blast Furnaces will be the centerpiece and headquarters of not only the Mon Valley and the Pittsburgh region but of the entire national heritage area it manages, acting as a hub that drives visitors and tourists to Rivers of Steel’s other sites and its many heritage partners in the southwestern Pennsylvania region.

Rivers of Steel looks forward to working closely with Allegheny County and the RIDC to ensure that the Carrie Blast Furnaces National Historic Landmark can complement the development and connect to the community green space and trails that are planned. In the end, the result will be the marrying of the engineering brilliance and industrial technology of Pittsburgh in the 19th century with the engineering brilliance and industrial technology of the 21st century, making Carrie Furnaces a site like none other in the world.

A black and white aerial photo of the Carrie Furnace site when it fully active, showing lots of buildings, smoke, and raw materials.

An aerial view of the Carrie Furnace site it its heyday. Photo from the Rivers of Steel Archives.

Interested in reading more about the history of the Carrie Blast Furnaces? Check out this article by Ryan Henderson about John Hughey and the Legacy of Black Workers at the Carrie Furnaces.

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