Taking The Steps To Nowhere: Bluff Foundry Park

Thursday, March 17, 2016 - by Mark A. Herndon

Back in the day, the recent photograph clearly depicts the limestone blocky structure used to create a step-way path from the Bluff Foundry Park up to the wall of the modern structure of Hunter Arts Museum. However, in 1853, they lead to the Bluff Foundry. This story briefly recaps when and how the Bluff Foundry Park was a vision to restore the remaining ruins of the Bluff Foundry structure. A team of planners, landscape architects, archaeologists, geologists and volunteers from Chattanooga were assembled to uncover the foundations of early industrialization vital to Chattanooga’s trade and commerce during Civil War era.

In 1978, as a young geologist, I (MAHerndon) was given the opportunity to assist Dr. Jeffrey Brown and other archaeologists from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga clearing vegetation, trees, and trash to prepare for an archaeological dig and geological mapping. Excavation of the site would help fully understand this pivotal industry. UTC and the local not-for-profit Mark Making developed the site as a public park in 2010. A 50-foot-high steel-and-fabric replica of the original furnace stack features images telling the story of this early industry which formed the foundation for the city as an industrial powerhouse.
In 1853, ironmaster Robert Cravens established the region’s first heavy industry when he constructed a blast furnace on the Tennessee River bluff just upstream from downtown Chattanooga. It was first fueled by charcoal, but in May 1860 it was converted to utilize coke. The first ironworks to do so on a large scale in the South, it produced raw iron from local iron ore. It was originally fueled with charcoal, but in May of 1860 it was the first in the South to be converted into a coke-fueled furnace. Coke is a cleaner, more efficient modified form of coal. It operated only for six months before the hearth collapsed and ruined the furnace, but it established Chattanooga as one of the South’s key industrial centers. The hot blast machinery was removed by Confederate forces when they evacuated the city, and the furnace base was used by Union occupiers as a lime kiln. Over time, the site was largely forgotten and reclaimed by the eroding bluffs.
In 1978, many aspects of the project were further reviewed and the Bluff Foundry Park Plan was conceptualized. Today, efforts continue to keep it visible for public enjoyment and as part of Chattanooga’s birth into industrial trade and commerce. 
A tremendous amount of credit goes to others as I supported the project while serving as a field geologist under the guidance of Leland Grant, chief geologist with Hensley Schmidt and technical advisor  Dr. Jeffery Brown, head of the Archaeology Department  University of Tennessee – Chattanooga. The key people preparing the Bluff Foundry Park Plan also included Ms. John Kovacevich, APTA Project Chairman,  Sam Rogers, ASLA H/S Project Manager, Terry Reynolds, H/S sketch artist and Frances Robinson, H/S plan graphics. (information complied by various sources)  © 2016 photos by Mark A Herndon, CPG.
Special thanks to Christopher Dahl, with Chattanooga Has History for making available archive printed material used in this journal. Thanks to my former Hensley–Schmidt colleagues and the University of Tennessee Geology and Archaeology Departments.   In addition to C-Span network with 2013 documentary video with Professor Nicholas Honerkamp (UTC)  http://www.c-span.org/video/?317108-1/bluff-furnace-chattanooga-industry

Mark A Herndon, certified professional geologist and professional photographer grew up in Chattanooga area, graduated from the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga.  He is the Entertainment and Chattanooga cityscape landscape /event photographer affiliated with Chattanoogan.com and contributor to magazines, venues and various festivals including Riverbend Festival, Nightfall Music Series, Road To Nightfall, Riverfront Nights, Southern Brewery Festival, Roof Top Hop, Wine Over Water, Tivoli Theatre Foundation, AC Entertainment and other events. Check out more at www.facebook.com/chattanoogalivemusic  Email at MAHerndon@ChattanoogaLiveMusic.com

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