Don’t erase industrial heritage, embrace it!

In many post-industrial American cities, the legacy of their manufacturing might is too often gradually rusting away or being erased from memory in the hopes that new developments will somehow rekindle a once proud past. As a result, significant aspects of our collective history are being lost to time, decay, and neglect.

West Bay waterfront in Traverse City, Michigan prior to removal of the industrial structures – Source:

Here in Traverse City, the vast majority of the bayfront’s industrial legacy has been erased. While the ensuing parklands, beaches, marina, and open space are lovely, it seems that some of the more iconic aspects of those previous industries could have been spared the wrecking ball or bulldozer. Unfortunately, as a city becomes a tourist and retirement destination, the waterfront becomes more and more valuable for other purposes. Despite the removal of industrial remnants fronting West Bay, with planning and good foresight by the community, much of Traverse City’s scenic bayfront wasn’t lost to private development. Most of the former industrial areas are now held within the public realm.

Oval Wood Dish Factory – Source:

Elsewhere in the city, a few industrial-era structures have been thoughtfully preserved, such as the Traverse City Cigar Box Company (now offices and lofts) and the Straub Brothers & Amiotte Candy Factory (now North Peak Brewing, Kilkenny’s, and apartments/condos). See images of both below.

Candy Factory – Source:

Traverse City Cigar Box Co. – Source:

Thankfully, many cities have learned not to erase their industrial heritage. Increasingly, cities are preserving and adapting fascinating relics of their industrial past into iconic public spaces such as community parks, gathering sites, performance venues, museums, and landmark historic sites. This post highlights six (6) fabulous examples from across the United States:

  • Steel Stacks in Bethlehem, PA;
  • Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, AL;
  • Lower Harbor Ore Dock in Marquette, MI;
  • Mill Ruins Park in Minneapolis, MN;
  • Steamtown in Scranton, PA; and
  • Gas Works Park in Seattle, WA.

BETHLEHEM, PENNSYLVANIA – Steel Stacks & Cultural Campus

Steel Stacks – Source:

Steel Stacks includes a variety of activities and event spaces including:

Before and after view of Steel Stacks – Source:

BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA – Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark

The Shed at Sloss Furnaces – Source:

Sloss Furnaces includes a variety of activities and event spaces including:

  • Furnace Fest
  • Multiple event venue locations
  • Music events
  • National Historic Landmark (1981)
  • National Register of Historic Places (1972)
  • Sloss Metal Arts
  • Tours and educational events
  • Visitors center and museum

Sloss Furnaces – Source:

MARQUETTE, MICHIGAN – planned Ore Dock BotEco (Botanical/Ecological) Center 

Planned BotEco Center – Source:

Ore Dock BotEco Center is intended to include a variety of activities and event spaces including:

September 2020 view of the Lower Harbor Ore Dock – photo by author

Up close view of the iron ore/taconite chutes – Photo by author


Mill Ruins Park – Source:

Mill Ruins Park includes a variety of activities and event spaces including:

Mill Ruins Park -Source:

Mill Ruins Park – Source:

SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA – Steamtown National Historic Site

Layout of Steamtown – Source:

Steamtown includes a variety of activities and event spaces including:

Streamtown roundtable – Source:


Gas Works Park – Source:

Gas Works Park includes a variety of activities and event spaces including:

  • National Register of Historic Places (since 2013)
  • Picnic areas and open space
  • Preserved historic structures
  • Pump House Play Barn
  • Scenic views, though water access is prohibited due to previous pollution.

If industrial archaeology or heritage preservation interest you, here are visual  links to a couple of resources available through*

http://  http://  http://

*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using these links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


This entry was posted in adaptive reuse, archaeology, architecture, art, cities, civics, culture, downtown, economic development, economic gardening, entertainment, environment, Food, fun, geography, historic preservation, history, industry, infrastructure, land use, landscape architecture, Passenger rail, placemaking, planning, rail, Railroads, recreation, revitalization, rivers/watersheds, skylines, spatial design, sustainability, technology, third places, tourism, trails, transportation, Travel, urban design, walking and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Don’t erase industrial heritage, embrace it!

  1. Kathy (Donahue) Brown says:


    Liked by 1 person

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