Pittsburgh: Carrie Blast Furnaces

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Built in 1907, Carrie Blast Furnaces 6 and 7 are among the last of their kind.  There aren’t many blast furnaces this old still standing in the US, and this place is the only non-operational facility of its kind left undemolished in the Pittsburgh area.  It was designated a historic landmark in 2006, and it’s been reopened for tours led by former employees and a variety of events, including concerts and ballets.

The Carrie site reached its peak in the 1950’s and 60’s, producing around 1250 tons of iron everyday from each furnace.  The material produced here was shipped across the Monongahela River using the Hot Metal Bridge to be processed into steel, and would eventually travel the country become parts of the Empire State Building, the Sears (now Willis) Tower, the UN Headquarters, and the Golden Gate Bridge, among many others.

One of the more unique things to see here is a large, 40-foot sculptural deer head placed prominently on the roof of one of the lower buildings.  In 1997, a group of Pittsburgh artists who found inspiration in the bits and pieces left around the plant risked prosecution to build the deer from the furnace scraps, using only sheers and pliers to manipulate the material.  Recently, the sculpture was beginning to sink after the years began to take their toll, but was quickly repaired and made to last for many years to come.

Beyond the deer, there’s still a lot of site-based artwork to see: a rocking horse made of Carrie pieces greets you at the beginning of the tour, and a collection of South American graffiti artists have been given permission to paint a specific, non-historically designated wall built in the 50’s.  Also, as you can imagine, there was plenty of graffiti placed everywhere throughout the site after its abandonment in the ’70s and plenty of it is still around.  Of course, the most prevalent theme throughout many of the most recent artists’ works is the deer.

Regular tours run May-October, about $25 per person after fees and everything – buy them here.  You might get lucky enough to have one of its former employees guide your tour.   The site also hosts art shows, movie sets, concerts, weddings, and once in the 1990’s, a ballet.  The dancers had torn up their shoes so far beyond repair that they left them to be part of the site, where they still hang among the rusting metal today.

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People working at the furnaces the day we visited mentioned concerts and an art festival coming up this fall, so check that out if you’re interested.  Pack your sunscreen, plenty of water, a camera, and a flashlight, and don’t miss this tour if you’re coming to the Pittsburgh area.  I love that the rise in public interest in abandoned places has caused tours like these – our curiosity is satisfied and the building gets a little extra cash to put toward repairs and future projects.

For more unusual places, follow me on Instagram:  @liz.bd

Sources:

The tour!

Rivers of Steel: Carrie Furnace

Pittsburgh’s Carrie Furnaces

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