Ruffner Mines

Early 1900s ore miners at Ruffner Mountain (source
The big seam at Ruffner Mine No.1

In 1883, a geologist from Washington & Lee University named William Henry Ruffner completed a survey of physical resources along the route of the Georgia Pacific Railroad, from Atlanta to the Mississippi River, through the Birmingham District. The survey attracted the interest of Georgia Pacific directors in acquiring mineral lands and furnace works in Birmingham.

Before being sealed, one mine entrance was nothing more than a hole in the ground. The opening is a tight squeeze and the beginning of the mine tunnel is only a few feet tall.

Georgia Pacific President John W. Johnston acquired control of the Sloss Furnace Company in 1887. The acquisition included a limestone quarry at Gate City and the soft ore mines in Irondale. At the turn of the 20th century, the Irondale mines were renamed after Ruffner.

The Ruffner mines closed June 1, 1953.

These iron ore mines in Birmingham, Alabama are located in the Ruffner Mountain area. This portion of Red Mountain is characterized by a continuous series of mining developments that trace the evolution of mining.

The Ruffner mines date back to the 1880s and were intermittently used until the 1950s. Mining practices were very primitive at the time, so workers carved each mine by hand.

The Ruffner mines were operated by the Sloss Furnace Company, later renamed Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Company. The mines provided iron ore for the nearby Sloss Furnaces, which today is a National Historic Landmark.

MineThe ore mining itself was carried out by contracted workers, usually African-Americans working under the direction of white supervisors. In the 1800s, miners earned 60 cents per car (approximately one ton). Miners cut through the rock with picks, wedges, and sometimes explosives.


Sloss-Sheffield Steel and Iron Company miners, 1910

The loaded ore cars would be conveyed under their own power to the surface works on rails laid by hand. Ore cars filled in the side passages would be brought to the central passage then hauled to the surface by a powered hoist.


Miners stacked loose rock to create retaining walls to support the ore mine from collapsing.

MinesThe Ruffner mines operated intermittently from the 1880s to the 1950s. The Ruffner Ore mines exhibit a wide variety of technology which trace the evolution of mining in the Birmingham District.

MineThere are well over a 100 drift mine openings present today, as well as stone foundations, machine mounts and retaining walls. Over a distance of several miles, every ravine along the southeast slope of Ruffner Mountain is pierced with drift mines.

MineAfter the Ruffner mines went idle, the site became an illegal dumping ground. In 1971, an explosion in a former storage building containing ammonium nitrate blew out windows in a nearby shopping center and caused $500,000 in damages to neighboring homes. More than 1,000 homes were evacuated. Although 13 people were hospitalized, no one was killed in the blast.

This chute would dump ore into a waiting car to be hauled to the surface.

A nonprofit was formed in 1977 that leased 28 acres of land from the city of Birmingham for public recreation. The Trust for Public Land added over 500 acres to the preserve from 1983-1985. An additional 400 acres was added in 2000 under Alabama’s Forever Wild program. In 2010, Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve consisted of over 1,000 acres and includes a newly built state-of-the-art 6,000 foot visitors center. The preserve contains 14 miles of hiking trails. Due to vandalism and concerns for safety the Ruffner mines were completely sealed in January 2017.

These wooden beams are well over a 100 years old and hidden 1200 feet below ground in a flooded mine.



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    Liked by 1 person

  2. I grew up all in and around these mines in the late 70’s.. was 10 years old when the explosion happened… we lived just up from Banks High… oh the memories

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Enjoyed reading this, and would like to copy/paste some of your word and picture descriptions in a small, private, “StoryWorth” collection for family use.

    Do I have your permission?

    About 1948 I and my adventuresome boy-cousin, both young teens, discovered abandoned iron mines deep down in a big ravine on Red Mountain not far from Cliff Rd., Birmingham, AL.

    We explored the shafts and cross-cuts until some areas, with piles of rocks and slanting ceilings, appeared to be caving in. At this point we followed another deep cross-cut shaft to escape our exploration.

    Leaving our adventure that day, I marvelled at the fine homes innocently built high above these hidden mine shafts all these years.

    Later, I read in the local paper that a drifter, using that same mine opening for a home base, had been killed by a sudden collapse of the part in which he was camping. After that tragedy, I think those several openings were sealed off.

    I would like to know more of the history of that well-constructed series of deep shafts under those Red Mountain homes.


  4. I knew about Ruffner’s out-of-state work (am a descendant), but had no idea there were mines or mountain named for him in Alabama. Wonderful site!


  5. As a child (I was born in 1966) I would often play all over that mountain and travel from what was at one time a blue collar Eden of sorts (Gate City) with stores, cafes and sandwich shops (the Gate City Sandwich Shop, The “Bread Store” and a neighborhood store that had delivery boys who delivered on bicycles. Before “Marks Village” infested what was once a rural area of Birmingham, the area was very much a welcoming and safe area. There was a dirt access road by the old gas staition that sat at the corner of Madrid and Georgia Road, the road looped under the Oporto Road Bridge. In the early seventies it was possible to drive to the top of Ruffner Mountain. My Grandmother owned a once lovely, custom built three bedroom home at 7708 south 65th street, it was lovely yet with the areas irreversible decline, what should be a hundred and fifty thousand dollar home in the shadow of Ruffner Mountain last sold for four thousand dollars. The one time blue collar Eden is forever gone yet my biking and walking from Irondale to the old fun to bike “fire road” near Banks School are a fond memory that shall endure as long as I exist. That mountain was and is hollowed out and dangerous yet to this pitiful soul, it provides a fond memory of what was.


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