An Ornament to the City
Old Mobile Ironwork

John S. Sledge
Photography by Sheila Hagler

The first illustrated, narrative history of the decorative ironwork of Mobile, Alabama


"With a storyteller's sure sense of drama, John Sledge brings to life the history of Mobile's ornamental ironwork. He writes with felicity, using contemporary sources and the backdrop of local history and the ironworking industry to enrich his architectural commentary, with rewarding results."
—Alice Bowsher, author of Alabama Architecture: Looking at Building and Place

"This celebration of the ironwork that graces the city of Mobile is a fine addition to the shelf of books on 19th century cast-iron architecture in America. Well-researched and engagingly written, the book documents how Mobile, like other southern port cities, began to use iron as a building material as early as the 1820s. In Mobile, iron was most frequently employed for lacy balconies and gorgeous verandahs, where one could find a cool breeze, as well as for elegant fences. Besides "iron lace," one could also find cast iron fountains, park benches, and statuary. A fine ironfront building, which stands today, was erected in 1860. As was the case in most other American cities, iron architecture fell out of favor after the 1880s and was often sold off as scrap in the 20th century. Urban renewal programs following World War II cost Mobile even more of its iron lace heritage. However, preservation efforts took hold in the 1970s and Mobile was able to preserve a portion of its ironwork and to restore it lovingly. Historic preservationists and especially fanciers of cast iron will welcome this appreciation of the ironwork of Mobile. The careful account by historian and preservationist John Sledge, richly illustrated, with many contemporary photographs by Sheila Hagler, reminds us of what was lost—but also what was saved."
—Carol Gayle, author of Cast-Iron Architecture in America: The Significance of James Bogardus

More / Hide

The "iron lace" that graces the businesses, homes, squares, and cemeteries of Mobile, Alabama, is as vital a part of that southern port city as it is of New Orleans, Charleston, and Savannah. Until now, its story has never been fully told. In this attractive volume, John S. Sledge's rich narrative, combined with evocative historic images and Sheila Hagler's stunning contemporary photographs, eloquently conveys as never before how ornamental cast iron defines Mobile's heart and soul.

Cast iron was the wonder of the Victorian age, according to Sledge. In Mobile, the material's diverse applications were on display in hulking locomotives and boilers, flamboyant fountains, imposing fences, and endless other forms and structures. The city's ornate iron balconies, dozens of which still remain, elicited the greatest wonder, then as now. Local publications have long extolled Mobile's enchanting ironwork. Only now, however, has the subject been situated within national trends in design, industry, and consumer tastes. It is a colorful saga featuring rawboned iron founders, artisan slaves, hustling salesmen, conniving architects, willful plunderers, romantic artists, and dedicated preservationists.

Drawing on rare surviving business records and other archival sources, Sledge skillfully reconstructs how the local iron industry developed and then fiercely competed with big northern foundries. As a working preservationist, Sledge pays particular attention to how many of Mobile's most splendid ornamental iron pieces have weathered hard times, natural disasters, and misguided development to remain a delight for tourists and residents alike. Hagler's beautiful photographs provide a powerful and sometimes moody visual accompaniment to this fascinating tale.

Page count: 128 pp.
Trim size: 11 x 11


List price: $38.95

buy button
View Shopping Cart

John S. Sledge is an architectural historian for the Mobile Historic Development Commission and Book Editor for the Mobile Register. Sheila Hagler is a professional photographer living in Grand Bay, Alabama. Sledge and Hagler previously collaborated on Cities of Silence, an illustrated study of Mobile's historic cemeteries.