Bethlehem Steel Company Sparrows Point, Baltimore County, Maryland 1949 A. Aubrey Bodine (1906-1970) Bodine Photograph Collection Baltimore City Life Museum Collection Maryland Historical Society B856(14)6-7
This incredible photograph shows the Bessemer process in progress. The Bessemer process was the first inexpensive industrial process for the mass-production of steel from molten pig iron. Patented in 1855, the process was named after its inventor, Henry Bessemer.
RG Steel (formerly Bethlehem Steel) Sparrows Point 68 inch Hot Strip Mill.
In mid-2012 RG Steel announced it was idling, and would eventually close, the Sparrows Point plant near Baltimore, Md. RG went bankrupt and efforts to try and sell the plant to another steel company failed. Eventually it fell into the hands of Hilco, a liquidator who planned to auction off the valuable equipment and sell everything else for scrap, ending 120 years of steel making at the site and putting 2000 people out of work for good.
I had long dreamed of the time I might be able to access Sparrows Point steel mill. I had been to 3 other abandoned steel mills but this one was the largest and closest to me as well as being untouched. At this time RG had idled the plant and left all of the lights and power still hooked up. Best case scenario was the plant may reopen again in a few weeks or months as it had the many other times it was idled in the last decade. Worst case was the plant would close and everything would be sealed up, or scrapped out. Either way time was of the essence.
After much scouting day and night it appeared there was almost no activity at the site. There were some guard shacks near the front but that was it. The place was desolate but still lit up making the possibility of a late night explore possible. Luck would have it the long labor day weekend was coming up.
After some planning we decided to hit up the mill at 1am on the Saturday before labor day. It was a warm night and the place was dead. We hid the car back near a marina and walked up some unused railroad tracks toward the mill. We ducked into the bushes every time a car would approach on the main road. The perimeter on this side had no fence to speak of. All we had to do was walk up a slight berm through some brush and we were on the property.
It was pitch black outside and we couldn’t use any lights for fear of being spotted from a distance. The brush in areas as well as some swampy spots caused us to have to zig zag around until we could find our way into the rail yard. The rail yard sat on the exterior of the building closest to the main road. We crawled under a flat bed railcar and staked out our target. None of the buildings have any real doors to speak of, there are massive openings that probably don’t even have roll up doors since the place was intended to run 24/7. We sat there for probably 10 minutes expecting some kind of security guard to roll up on us but it never happened.
Once we got the courage to head towards the door we ran across the gap between the tracks and building as fast as possible. Looking around we weren’t really sure if anyone would be inside or not. As soon as we got inside the door we walked right past a spot that had 3 big security cameras aimed at the door. We kind of looked at each other and then scrambled back out towards the railcar again. Hiding under the railcar we pretty much knew there was no way the cameras wouldn’t have seen us. We sat there expecting security to come any minute now, but still they did not.
Eventually after some debate we decided it was most likely that the cameras were closed circuit and only used in that one part of the building, a place where no one was around to watch them. Despite common sense telling us this was insane we ran back across the gap again into the building. This time we went further in and didn’t stop until we reached the main hall of the first building.
The only word to describe what was inside this place is breathtaking. For fans of industry this is what paradise looks like. The scale of the place is incredible. The building we were in had to be ½ mile long, easy. At this point my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest from a mix of pure fear and excitement. At that point if I walked out of there in handcuffs it was still worth it. But once again nothing, just the dull hum of high voltage.
The pictures can tell most of the story from this point. In something like 4 hours we explored half of the 68 inch Hot Strip Mill, the portion with the roughing stands and some conveyors. Underneath this place is a horrific thing known as the grease house. The grease house pumps up grease to lube up all of these moving pieces. It is by far the nastiest, dirtiest, and most slippery ass place I have ever been. We saw that and part of one building next to this that was mostly empty save for a crane. It was most likely where they stored coils waiting to go onto the next step and those were long gone. 4 hours and that was all we got to see. That should give you an idea of how massive this place is. This complex has about a ½ mile long, 1 mile wide cluster of these buildings just in this one spot. I wish I would have had weeks to explore this place. 4 hours was just not enough.
To make this even better I filmed us walking inside of the place. I figured if we got caught at least I could get it on video. Here is a link to the YouTube video, this is us walking in the 2nd time and stopping at the main hall.
The main reason I am posting these photos now is I just got word the other day that these buildings were coming down. They have been working non-stop scrapping this place and ensuring any trace of Baltimore’s steel making history is destroyed in the process. At the time these photos and video were taken the mill was owned by a company that doesn’t exist anymore, so I hopefully the statute of limitations is on my side.