Carrie Furnaces revisited


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In 1997, a group of young Pittsburgh artists slipped past security guards and onto the grounds of the Carrie Furnaces in Rankin and Swissvale, hoping to explore it as a potential site for their urban art.

Inspired by the story of the abandoned iron mill, they created — from materials they found on site and using only sheers and pliers — a 40-feet sculpture, “The Carrie Deer,” which stands as a monument to hard work, dedication and rebirth.

“When the furnaces closed in 1978, life and history did not end,” Ron Baraff said. “The deer has been symbolic of that traditional time in the Carrie Furnaces history, as well as the region’s history.”

He is the director of museums and archives for the Homestead-based Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, which acquired the rights to the pair of furnaces, including acreage surrounding the former steel complex, in 2010.

At dusk Aug. 16, an outdoor premiere screening of the 65-minute documentary, “The Carrie Deer,” will be held in the western courtyard adjacent to the structure. The event will kick off the campaign to restore and maintain the historical site.

The screening will be preceded by a performance by a Pittsburgh-based band, The Beagle Brothers. No rain date has yet been scheduled.

Costs range from $10 for general admission to $125 for a twilight tour and reception prior to the screening with the artists, filmmakers, as well as guest actor David Conrad and local producer Rick Sebak.

The documentary about the history of the structure and of the site was produced by local filmmaker Sharon Brown for the Rivers of Steel.

The nonprofit organization is committed to preserving and managing historic resources related to the steel industry.

“The Carrie Deer” is a focal point of the site, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2006.

The 100-acre tract housed seven furnaces from 1907 to the mid-1930s, five of which were in Rankin and two in Swissvale.

Molten iron produced at the site was transported across the Monongahela River and turned to steel in Homestead for distribution worldwide.

Only the Carrie Furnaces Nos. 6 and 7 in Swissvale and Rankin — separated by only a few feet —- still stand.

The two furnaces operated until 1978. At their maximum, they each produced 1,250 tons of iron a day.

“They are the only pre-World War II blast furnaces left in the world,” Mr. Baraff said.

He said besides marking the site of millworkers’ intensive labor in grueling conditions to make iron for steel during the industry’s glory days, “The Carrie Deer” symbolizes what happens when the work goes away.

“It has become a place for exploration and creation. The deer acts as a gatekeeper to the arts on the site. We have had dance performances here, small concerts, and other events outside the box of industry,” he said.

“It brought people to the site who would not have otherwise done so,” he added.

Advance purchases for the Aug. 16 screening are preferred, but tickets will be available at the door with cash or credit card.

For more information: www.riversofsteel.com.

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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