Nature has blessed Tannehill. The beautiful tree-lined valley, hillsides rich in ore and swiftly flowing Roupes Creek made this a perfect setting for a successful iron making operation, as the early settlers realized. The same ingredients afford today’s visitors a pleasurable escape from modern life..
Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park has more than 1,500 acres in three counties set aside for hiking, camping and outdoor recreation. A miniature railroad chugs through the pines. From spring through fall, the blacksmith, miller and craftsmen demonstrate their trades. Craft shops occupy restored pioneer cabins and artisans chat with visitors from their front porches. Steeped in history, Tannehill feels timeless. The cotton gin, pioneer farm and working gristmill preserve a long-gone way of life. Hiking trails retrace historic roadways. Artifacts of Alabama’s 19th century iron industry displayed in the Iron and Steel Museum put in perspective the massive stone furnaces, Tannehill’s awe-inspiring centerpiece.
It is difficult to take in all of Tannehill in one visit. Come again and come often to enjoy the special appeal of each season. Campground accommodations, both primitive and improved, are plentiful.
The third weekend of each month, from March through November, shoppers and swappers come from far and near to Tannehill Trade Days in search of tools, clothing, jewelry, knives, furniture and other treasures. Other events include a Dulcimer festival, Gem, Mineral & Jewelry show, Woodcarvers show, Educational programs for school children, a Labor Day celebration, Halloween festival and Christmas candlelight tour.
Daniel Hillman, a Pennsylvania furnaceman, first built a bloomery forge on the banks of Roupes Creek in 1830, where he had found the richest deposits of brown ore in his experience. He wrote his son: "I believe, George, that my prospects for making a handsome property are better than they ever were..." Hillman died two years later, the family's fortune unmade. Ninian Tannehill later took up the forge as a sideline to his farming operation.
Between 1859 and 1863, slaves cut sandstone rocks, transported them by skids and stacked them to form three tall furnaces. Tannehill No. 1 was built by the noted Southern ironmaster Moses Stroup, who later built the Oxmoor Furnance, the first in Jefferson County. William L. Sanders purchased the operation in 1862 and set about expanding the ironworks.
Like the wheels and gears of a huge machine, the industrial center at Tannehill kept up a fierce momentum. Trees on the hillsides were felled to be made into charcoal that fed the huge blast furnaces. Roupes Creek and a mighty steam engine powered the blowing machines to heat the fires that melted ore to be formed into "pigs" of iron which, in turn, formed the tools of war for the Confederacy. At the height of production Tannehill could turn out 22 tons of iron a day. The iron was cast into ordnance, skillets, pots and ovens for the Southern army.
On March 31, 1865, it ended in fire and destruction. Three companies of the Eighth Iowa Cavalry swept through the area as a part of Union General James H. Wilson's raid on Alabama war industry sites. Smoke rose from the charred remains of the ironworks and cabins that housed several workers. At day's end the furnaces were no longer operational, and the foundry, tannery, gristmill, and tax-in-kind warehouse were in ruins.