Originally published by The Times Tribune, “Historic Scranton furnaces eyed as heart of new Iron District,” by Jim Lockwood (firstname.lastname@example.org), 2012 11 13.
The historic Scranton Iron Furnaces, which helped forge the Industrial Revolution, now could have a bustling future as the heart of a new “Iron District” in the city.
That’s the vision of a group of stakeholders that has begun efforts to transform the four-acre furnace site at 159 Cedar Ave. into a more-active, vibrant community and tourist destination.
Under an admittedly ambitious concept, the massive remnant of a bygone era would possibly become home to artist studios, a restaurant and microbrewery – all situated inside the furnaces’ several-feet-thick walls, said Maureen McGuigan, Lackawanna County’s deputy director of Arts and Culture who leads an “Iron District steering committee.”
“It would be a living, breathing historical site,” Ms. McGuigan said. “In our grand vision, you’d be able to go inside the furnaces.”
The steering committee, which has been meeting periodically for nearly a year, includes representatives of various entities, such as the Anthracite Heritage Museum, the Lackawanna Heritage Valley National and State Heritage Area, Keystone College, the University of Scranton, Lackawanna County, the City of Scranton, United Neighborhood Centers, Scranton Tomorrow, the Pop-Up Studio, McLane Associates landscape architects and DX Dempsey architectural firm, according to Ms. McGuigan.
A description and artist’s rendering posted on DX Dempsey’s website and Facebook page states, “The design concept is to allow the user to explore all of the interesting spaces within the furnaces. The team has imagined a center bustling with activities, including a restaurant, microbrewery, large meeting spaces, as well as interpretative and interactive displays related to the arts, the history, and the production that was once born in the spaces left behind.”
An Iron District designation would be a branding/marketing tool linking the downtown with South Scranton, by stretching from Bogart Court behind Lackawanna Avenue – a part of the “Renaissance at 500” redevelopment project – to the 700 block of Cedar Avenue.
The “keystone” of such a district would be the furnaces, which were originally operated by the Lackawanna Iron and Steel Co. between 1840 and 1902 and which were the site of the first mass production in the United States of iron T-rails for railroads.
An Iron District also would encompass other South Scranton revitalization projects. Those include the United Neighborhood Center’s Elm Street project, and a “gateway” project that aims to coincide with an eventual state Department of Transportation upgrade of the intersection of Cedar Avenue, Orchard Street and the two ramp lanes of the Central Scranton Expressway, to make the junction more pedestrian-friendly and extend the look and feel of the iron furnaces to the South Side gateway at Cedar and Orchard.
Noting the furnace site is “the downtown’s backyard and South Scranton’s front yard,” steering committee member Wayne Evans, who also is a member of the South Side Residents Association, said, “We’re trying to create this synergy between that (Cedar Avenue) area and the furnaces.”
Owned and operated by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the furnace site is administered by the Pennsylvania Anthracite Heritage Museum and Iron Furnaces. Efforts made Monday to reach both state agencies were unsuccessful.
According to the museum’s website, the four surviving stone blast furnaces are remnants of an extensive plant of the Lackawanna Iron & Steel Co. and represent the early iron industry in the United States. Started in 1840 as Scranton, Grant & Co., the firm had the largest iron production capacity in the United States by 1865. Historical accounts state the blast furnaces were constructed between 1848 and 1857.
By 1880, the furnaces poured 125,000 tons of pig iron, which was converted in its rolling mill and foundry into T-rails and other end products. In 1902, the company dismantled the plant and moved it to Lackawanna, N.Y., to be closer to high-grade iron ores.
A few years ago, a vaulted arch that spans the back of the furnace structure and supports the rear stacks had a minor structural failure, and this damage was repaired in August.
In recent years, the museum also has increased efforts to promote the furnaces as attractions and draw crowds. Last month, the second annual Bonfire at the Iron Furnaces followed a lighting up of the furnaces for a First Friday event. The third annual South Side Farmers Market moved this summer to the furnaces. In September, an inaugural Scranton Cultural Crossroads Festival also was held there. And in June, the furnaces hosted the third annual Arts on Fire Festival, which included a Fire at the Furnace fundraiser.
The steering committee also has looked to ArtsQuest, a nonprofit firm that has been involved in revitalizing the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Bethlehem, Ms. McGuigan said.
In 2011, ArtsQuest and other public and private partners launched SteelStacks, an arts and cultural campus at the former Bethlehem Steel plant that closed in 1995.
The Iron District concept is in the early planning stage and the next step would be a preliminary study that the committee hopes to have done next year, Ms. McGuigan said. Such a review may cost around $30,000 and possibly could be funded by grants or contributions from stakeholders, she said.
A preliminary study would help form a fundraising basis for a more-extensive feasibility study, she said. As a result, it could take several years for an Iron District to fully come to fruition, she said.
“Part of the problem is we don’t even know if a lot of it is feasible,” Ms. McGuigan said.
Mr. Evans added of the idea of having studios, restaurant and/or a microbrewery inside the furnaces, “That may or may not be the end result. We’re just thinking outside the box of what it could be.”
Ms. McGuigan said of the furnace site, “We need to make it a living part of the community and make it sustainable. We’re trying to be proactive.”
Mr. Evans added, “It’s such a natural fit. It’s something that we probably should have done or talked about years ago.”