It seems Rome was tailor made to be a foundry town. From the arrival and subsequent moving of the Noble Brothers pre-Civil War foundry to the closing of the Southern Cooperative Foundry Co. in May of 1970, Rome produced all forms of iron ware, and several stove designs. Roger Aycock, a frequent RN-T guest columnist, stood and watched the Southern Foundry during its daily operation about a year before closing.
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“The molding room was the one acre heart of it all. It was a purposeful uproar of clanging iron, loud with the wind of its forced draft cupola, the shouting of busy men and clapping of belts on their pulleys and underlying it all, the steady drone of the big 1902 Corliss steam engine that powered the whole plant from floor to the overhead maze of wooden beams.
Its heat scorched the eyebrows and clothing of sweaty molders lining up with their long-handled ladles to make their runs by the white-hot stream of molten iron, and take back glowing loads in the molder’s peculiar swinging run to hinged wooden “flasks” where aluminum patterns had been first fitted and then removed, with juggler’s speed and jeweler’s precision, from carefully moistened and sifted Indiana sand.”
I didn’t want to change Roger’s description. He was a founding member of Rome Area Writers, and his description would be what propelled his writing career, and like me, he was fascinated with Rome’s foundry history.
There were so many foundries in Rome that came and went it’s impossible to remember them all. I wish they had been listed somewhere. Well, maybe they have been and I ain’t found them yet.
Roger found it interesting that there was still a huge market in 1970 for wood burning stoves, yet Rome’s last foundry was shutting down. He mentioned that Hanks Foundry, Rome Stove & Range, Eagle Stove & Range and Standard Stove Works, all have bowed to the pressure of changing times and given up the fight.
Now Southern, according to president Jennings B. Gordon, has in stock just enough spare parts to last for perhaps a year. President Gordon signed on as an employee in 1930 after finishing college, where his father before him, J. Bailey Gordon, managed the company’s accounts from its first day of operation in 1898.
Roger seemed to be interested in a list of the original stockholders of the company. They were a virtual list of prominent Romans of the times. Among some of them were Captain J.G. Seay, who operated a fleet of steamboats between Rome and Gadsden. Others are H.B. Brooks, William Cocher, W.W. May, C.E. Millican, J.A, Lester, A. Randall, J.W. Russell, M.C. Smith, W.H. Weatherly, W.W. Beyseigel, Fred Hanson, J.W. Tippins and W.W. Tarvin who once lived where Callier Springs Country Club now stands.
One of the most interesting things about our foundry closings was the almost impossibility to find help. None of the foundries could find and hire enough molders to stay in operation.
The foundry at one time had poured over 100,000 pounds of iron ore daily, melted from pigs and fuel coke shipped by rail from Birmingham. For many years the foundry averaged 18,000 units; stoves and ranges for heating and cooking, hollow ware-pots, kettles and Dutch ovens, and smaller cast items such as fireplace grates and irons, trivets and grate shakers.
Along with Rome’s other foundries, the city was the unofficial stove manufacturer in the nation. Some of the things I found interesting from Mr. Aycock’s research was the fact that Rome foundries made great numbers of “cannon” heaters during World War I for the Army, which were used in France. The government ordered large consignments of heavy stoves to be used in building the Alcan Highway during WWII, and filled an order for a million grate-shakers for army tent stoves.
Foundries dotted the Rome skyline in almost every area. The four stove manufacturers were listed in 1940 as: Eagle Stove Works, 305 Forsyth St. (North Rome); Rome Stove and Range Company, Coral Avenue (East Rome); Southern co-operative foundry company (North Rome); Standard Stove and Range Company, Lamar Street and Shorter Avenue; and Hanks Foundry.
Other Rome industries in the “iron melting” classification were Fairbanks Company, Rome Foundry and Machine, Davis Foundry and Machine, and Griffin Foundry and Machine. There had been a foundry where Central Plaza is now. Terhune Foundry merged with one of the others. The big Davis Blast Furnace located near Darlington school used to light up the sky at night with belches of flame heading skyward. Its smelting abilities were what made all the foundries in Rome possible at the start, then the imports from Birmingham took over.
In 1900 Rome’s foundries were listed as the city’s number one business, and would remain so till the textile industry overtook it in the late thirties.
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To realize that people in 1970 all wanted wood burning heaters and fireplace inserts is not impossible. I remember we built a fireplace on our house in the early ’70s. But like Roger, it’s sad to see an industry leave the community due to the lack of employees. You know though, after reading about the job description of what it took to be a molder, I think I would have passed also.
I have pictures sent to me of foundry employee’s from Eagle, and Standard Foundries, and there ain’t a fat one in the bunch. What a diet…
Mike Ragland is a Cave Spring city councilman and a retired Rome police major. His most recent book is “Living with Lucy.” Readers may contact him at mrag Get unlimited access to quality, locally-produced news.
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